The Yukon Energy Corporation won’t release a study that’s exploring the viability of a wind farm on Sumanik Hill near Whitehorse.
The draft study suggests a wind farm would be a cheaper alternative to hydro projects, like the $120-million Mayo B dam expansion, but it is commercial information and not for the public, said David Morrison, president of Yukon Energy.
“It’s a proprietary study, we paid for it,” said Morrison. “I wouldn’t give you the Moon Lake hydro study either. Why would I do that?
“We just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies and then I’m going to give them to somebody so that somebody else can go do the work?”
Morrison’s defence might seem a bit odd considering Yukon Energy doesn’t really have any competition in the Yukon’s power-generation market.
But the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources is currently working on an independent power producer policy, which will open the market to private builders who want to help supply power to the Yukon’s grid.
While hypothetical, it’s something Yukon Energy is protecting itself against.
“It’s business,” said Morrison. “I’m not going to give it to you. I’m not going to give it to anybody.”
Yukon Energy’s mandate to serve the public interest doesn’t mean the corporation’s research should be open to public scrutiny, said Morrison.
In fact, keeping the study secret is the best way to serve the public interest, he said.
“I just spent the ratepayers’ money, and that’s an asset the ratepayers own,” he said. “We’re not going to give it to somebody else.”
While Yukon Energy informs the public on global plans and larger projects, the study is about a specific site and could easily be copied by competitors interested in building a wind farm on Sumanik.
“That’s really a reason I’m not going to share it,” said Morrison.
Until last fall, Yukon Energy argued it was not a public body and thus was not covered by access-to-information laws.
However, the Yukon Information and Privacy Commissioner recently amended those laws, defining Yukon Energy as a public body.
But that doesn’t mean it would be forced to release the study, said Catherine Buckler-Lyon, a senior investigator and mediator at the privacy commissioner’s office.
“It’s hard to comment without going through the process and knowing what section he’d been relying on formally,” said Buckler-Lyon.
Proprietary information is not a term covered by the access-to-information act, she said.
But section 17 of the act protects public bodies from “disclosure harmful to the economic interests of a public body which would be reasonably expected to harm the financial and economic interests of a public body,” she said.
“Until you make a formal reply, you’re not going to know what they’re relying on,” she said.
Yukon Energy has received a grilling from alternative energy advocates who argue that the utility isn’t interested in wind.
And while the utility admits wind is cheaper when compared to Mayo B, the pricing argument is moot because what the grid needs now is more reliable power than wind can provide.
“On its own, we could probably build a wind farm of equal size for less capital dollars,” said Morrison. “But because of the isolated grid we’re on, if I built five or 10 megawatts of wind, I’d have to build five or 10 megawatts of something else. Then it doesn’t become cheaper.”
Utilities down south can use power from other grids if the wind isn’t blowing, said Morrison, a luxury the Yukon doesn’t have.
In the Yukon, tests show that the wind doesn’t blow six out of 10 days, said Morrison.
A federal subsidy for hydro projects offered in last year’s budget also made Mayo B more feasible than a wind farm, he said.
“I would argue Mayo B is more affordable than wind because we got a federal grant,” said Morrison. “We didn’t get a federal grant for wind.”
Ottawa dropped funding for wind projects in last year’s budget as well, focusing its alternative energy agenda on ethanol fuels.
It’s not clear when Yukon Energy might be able to turn to wind.
The Sumanik Hill study has been in the works for several months and should be completed soon.
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