Why is the Yukon often left in the dark? ask critics

Yukon residents have spent more time in the dark this year thanks to an increase in the number of power outages.

Yukon residents have spent more time in the dark this year thanks to an increase in the number of power outages.

The increase in unplanned power outages and quality of service provided by the two Yukon utilities — Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Electrical Company Ltd. — requires a Yukon Utilities Board review, say critics.

The number of unplanned power outages on Yukon Energy Corporation’s system has already increased 25 per cent this year, compared to 2006 totals.

In 2006, there were 35 unplanned power outages and 14 planned outages. Equipment failures caused 11 of the unplanned outages. The rest were “acts of God” — lightning strikes, frost and animal interference, said energy corporation spokesperson Janet Patterson.

Already in 2007 there have been 44 unplanned outages and 11 planned outages.

Equipment failures caused 16 unplanned outages.

The increasingly frequent unplanned outages are becoming a more risky problem as the weeks go by, said Utilities Consumers’ Group president Roger Rondeau.

“With winter coming up, we can’t go on having the power out for three or four hours in 40-below weather,” he said.

The quality of service requires discussion by the utilities board before the end of the year, added Rondeau, who said as much in a letter to the utilities board.

The board replied the general rate application process, which includes service reports from both utilities, probably won’t happen until March.

“We want to find out if the utilities are keeping equipment up to standard,” said Rondeau.

“Whether it’s lack of maintenance or natural breakdowns, I don’t know. That’s what the (utilities) board has to find out.”

A service review is part of the normal general rate application process, which hasn’t happened since 1996, said Rondeau, “which is maybe one reason we’re having these problems.”

The higher number of outages this year is connected to the weather, said Patterson.

“It was the heavy snow in the winter and the high number of lightning strikes in the summer,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had that many strikes around Dawson and Mayo.

“It’s frustrating and inconvenient, but our outages are pretty minor compared to other places,” said Patterson, who pointed to Victoria, which has suffered through power outages lasting several days at a time.

“There will be outages from time to time because of things like a snow storm or a lightning storm but you can’t stop those from happening.”

There were 10 major outages, which affect all of Whitehorse or the majority of people serviced by the Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro grid, since January 2006, said Patterson.

The number four hydro turbine at the Whitehorse facility is responsible for two outages in August, but faulty insulators on the powerlines, a downed transmission pole, and problems with other turbines have also caused outages.

“We can’t point to any specific piece and say there’s been a major problem with that,” said Patterson.

The outages are hurting Yukon businesses, said Liberal energy critic Gary McRobb.

“I’ve seen first-hand the frustration of businesses pushing customers out the door during a power outage,” said McRobb.

“(The outages) are wreaking havoc in the business community. Think about restaurants cooking food while the power goes out. The traffic lights go out. I could go on and on.”

McRobb is calling on the government to direct the utilities board to discuss the causes of the frequent outages during the next general rate application process.

The unusual number of outages is currently not on the agenda and there appear to be no plans to add it, said McRobb.

“People are paying more for power and they’re getting a lower standard of service,” said McRobb.

“People want the power to stay on and they want the price to be as low as possible and stable. We’re coming into winter and we have to be assured the power will stay on.”

Because there are no plans to study the power outages, McRobb is calling on Energy Minister Archie Lang and Justice Minister Marian Horne, both of whom can direct the utilities board to include items for review, to make power outages part of the agenda.

The government sets the agenda and schedule with suggestions from the utilities board, which indicated in its 20-year resource plan that a review should start before October 31.

“At a political level, we need to see some leadership,” said McRobb. “There’s been nothing done to make this hearing happen. I’m afraid it’ll be delayed until next year and the problems will persist.”

Calls to the offices of ministers Lang and Horne were not returned.