The Yukon Conservation Society is hosting a workshop next week to discuss the potential for small-scale hydro development in the territory, and to showcase low-impact hydroelectric projects from other jurisdictions.
The workshop comes as the Yukon government makes plans to build one or more new, large-scale hydroelectric dams to satisfy the territory’s growing demand for electricity. The Yukon Development Corporation is currently reviewing over 200 potential sites that could be used for new hydroelectric development in the territory. The corporation is expected to release its recommendations for sites and further research this winter.
But Anne Middler, an energy analyst with the Yukon Conservation Society, said hydro dams threaten fish and fish habitat, and are not ideal for a grid that isn’t connected to Outside jurisdictions. That’s because new, large hydro facilities would likely be built to supply the maximum demand for power in the winter months, and would probably waste excess power in the summer.
Middler believes the Yukon could meet its growing electricity needs with smaller, low-impact hydro projects.
“I do think we can do it. It may require several smaller-scale projects around the grid, but that’s a good thing,” she said. “That makes a lot of sense on our independent grid. It can provide fantastic economic development, revenue streams, and energy security.”
The Yukon Conservation Society is particularly interested in pumped-storage hydroelectricity, which would use excess power produced when demand is low to pump water up to a high-elevation lake or reservoir above the power plant. During peak demand times, the water would be released and would flow back down to the plant to produce more power. Middler said this would be a good way of storing energy to meet winter demand without having to turn to back-up diesel power.
She said an independent consultant will give a presentation at Wednesday’s workshop to highlight locations where pumped storage is viable in the Yukon. Yukon Energy will also have a representative present to discuss what role pumped storage could play in Yukon’s future.
“We are really excited about the potential for this kind of project,” Middler said. “I think there’s probably a great deal of potential out there.”
The workshop will also showcase two low-impact hydro projects from nearby jurisdictions: a micro-hydro project in Atlin that has a power purchase agreement with BC Hydro, and the Goat Lake project in Alaska, which supplies roughly 70 per cent of the year-round power supply to Skagway and Haines.
Darren Belisle, a manager of power operations with Alaska Power & Telephone, will speak at next week’s workshop. He said the Goat Lake project made sense economically and environmentally.
“Since both communities, Skagway and Haines, were on 100 per cent diesel, we were always looking for an alternative that’s more stable for our customers,” he said.
Goat Lake is considered low-impact largely because it doesn’t have a dam. Instead, water is siphoned from a high-altitude lake down into a power plant. The force of gravity gives the water the power it needs to rotate turbines.
The Goat Lake project received certification from the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, an American non-profit organization, in 2007.
Belisle said there is likely potential for similar projects in the Yukon, but cautioned that it can be tricky to find an ideal site.
Systems like the Goat Lake project need a high-altitude lake that is fairly deep and gets a large influx of rain or meltwater, so that it won’t be drained by the siphon. It also can’t be home to many threatened or endangered species, and it needs to be close enough to the grid that a lengthy transmission line won’t be required.
Still, Middler is optimistic about the future of small-scale hydro in the Yukon, and hopes the workshop will show people “that it’s viable, that it’s possible, that it’s doable.”
The workshop will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 30 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Anyone interested in attending is asked to call the Yukon Conservation Society at 867-668-5678.
Contact Maura Forrest at