Watson Lake mulls hydro potential

The Liard First Nation is teaming up with the Town of Watson Lake and the Yukon Electrical Company to study the potential of hydropower generation within Kaska traditional territory in south Yukon.

Watson Lake might be getting its own hydro plant.

The Liard First Nation is teaming up with the Town of Watson Lake and the Yukon Electrical Company to study the potential of hydropower generation within Kaska traditional territory in south Yukon.

In what will likely be one of his last official acts as chief of the LFN before next week’s election, Liard McMillan said he’s happy to see a project like this getting going.

“It’s been underway for quite a period of time,” McMillan said. “I have to say, it’s the culmination of a long-lasting and very positive working relationship that the Liard First Nation has had with the Town of

Watson Lake and its officials over many years.” McMillan is not seeking re-election.

The project will see Whitehorse’s Access Consulting Group examining the technical, commercial and financial viability of a small hydro station somewhere within Kaska traditional territory. The idea is to allow Watson Lake the ability to generate its own power, with enough left over to lay the groundwork for future industrial opportunities, like a sawmill or nearby mines.

“The Liard First Nation views this as a stepping stone to other potential projects down the road, providing energy not only to the municipality of Watson Lake, but potentially in the future we will be looking at the energy needs of the surrounding area, including the mining industry,” McMillan said.

Watson Lake isn’t connected to the rest of the territorial grid. Right now it powers itself with a six-megawatt diesel generating station.

Larry Bagnell, the chair of the Watson Lake Economic Revitalization Commission, called the study a “unique partnership” that will give the area a solid power base for future expansion.

“We’re not looking at powering the whole Yukon. This is for the people of Watson Lake, and will probably be within 100 kilometres of Watson Lake,” Bagnell said.

“It won’t be a large project, but it will be large in the eyes of the people of Watson Lake,” he said.

The federal government is stepping up to pay the $100,000 fee to Access Consulting for the study, said Dwight Redden, the general manager of the Yukon Electrical Company.

Redden explained that the study will look at a number of options for hydro power, including everything from small “micro-power” dams to potential run-of-river projects.

“The study will look at various scenarios, and different sizes of hydroelectric capacity as well as different capacity factors. Not just how big, but how much power will come out of it in a given year and how does that fit with the existing system as a backup?” Redden said, adding that it’s too early to discuss possible sites for the future facility.

The project is unrelated to the Yukon government’s search for more hydro for the territorial grid, Redden said.

Earlier this fall the territorial government announced a feasibility study to look at linking the Yukon grid to Skagway, Alaska, as well as directing Yukon Energy to start looking for potential hydro projects to help feed the Yukon grid.

The Watson Lake study should be finished sometime in April 2014, Redden said.

There has been talk of a potential power link to B.C. that would run south through Watson Lake and could connect that town to the rest of the territory, but Redden said that won’t factor into this current plan unless there is significant movement on the power link question.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com

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