A sign supporting green power sits along Robert Service Way near Yukon Energy in 2014. After announcing plans to develop a thermal power plant in the Whitehorse area earlier this year, Yukon Energy Corp. has said they are now cancelling those plans. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)

Yukon Energy axes thermal plant plans

The decision was made earlier this month

Yukon Energy Corp. (YEC) is cancelling its plans to develop a thermal power plant in the Whitehorse area, bending to Yukoners’ concerns.

“Our focus instead will be to look at options to add or replace capacity at our existing generation facilities as our fleet of diesel engines retire,” wrote Lesley Cabott, chair of YEC’s board, in an Oct. 1 letter sent to Ranj Pillai, minister of the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

“In the interim, Yukon Energy will continue to rent diesel generators each winter to ensure an adequate supply of back-up power in case of an emergency.”

YEC floated the idea of developing a 20-megawatt facility in May. A public comment period ended shortly afterwards.

The decision to axe plans came after results of “technical, environmental and socio-economic research” came in, too, according to the letter.

Concerns from Yukoners include climate change, proximity to homes and cost.

“There is a strong desire for Yukon Energy to pursue renewable energy projects. Participants expressed a desire for Yukon Energy to incorporate the latest technologies (e.g. battery storage, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind, solar) to increase the amount of renewable power generation, and to employ new programs and technologies to allow residents to conserve and better manage their electricity use,” the public engagement report says.

Cody Reaume, energy analyst for the Yukon Conservation Society, previously told the News that it would be best to choose a temporary solution, one that would provide flexibility of investment into renewable energy sources — diesel, in other words.

The issue surfaced at the legislative assembly on Oct. 8 via a ministerial statement by Pillai.

“At a time when we need to focus on the future and how to meet our energy needs in the face of climate change emergency, many Yukoners question the value of making capital investments in the burning of fossil fuels,” he said.

NDP Leader Kate White applauded the move, noting her party questioned how the Yukon could offset its emissions while introducing a fossil fuel plant.

“While this decision by the Yukon Energy Corporation represents a success and an opportunity, it also represents a challenge — a challenge to us as elected officials to push for more investments in renewable energy and creative ways to reduce our peak winter load, which partially spurred the need for this project,” she said.

Wade Istchenko, the Yukon Party’s YEC critic, questioned how energy will be delivered to a growing population in the territory now that the plant is off the table.

Energy generated at the facility would have been used in the event of a system failure or drought (hydro power represents the lion’s share of energy produced in the Yukon.)

In response, Pillai said a need persists for reliable electricity at peak periods and during emergencies.

“As I said, we will continue to work with the Yukon Energy Corporation, and work of course is well underway,” he said, noting a list of initiatives struck in order to build up capacity, including a recently announced hydro power battery storage system and $1.5 million per year for local, small-scale renewable energy projects.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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