Yukon Energy says it is preparing a proposal to go to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for the Southern Lakes enhanced storage project it is working on. The proposal is expected to be submitted in the summer of 2021.
On Dec. 11, Yukon Energy announced its plans to move forward with the project, noting it will continue discussions with the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and will be contacting property owners that would be directly impacted by the project to review and finalize any mitigation plans addressing erosion or flooding potential.
The project would see an additional 30 centimeters of water stored in Marsh Lake, Tagish Lake and Bennett Lake in the fall and early winter. Yukon Energy would use the additional water to generate hydroelectricity during winter to meet the extra demand for electricity in the colder months.
It would allow Yukon Energy to generate 6.5 more gigawatt hours of electricity through the winter and is expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 3,100 tonnes as there would be less reliance on diesel and liquefied natural gas.
In its statement, Yukon Energy made it clear the decision doesn’t mean the project will proceed. It does however mean after a decade of studies, public meetings, surveys, planning and engineering, the company will take the next step forward on the project.
“While there continues to be mixed feelings about the project one thing is crystal clear — Yukon wants more renewable electricity,” said Andrew Hall, president and CEO of Yukon Energy. “After 10 years of researching and gathering feedback on our proposed plan, we believe we can implement the Southern Lakes Enhanced Storage Project in a way that supports Yukoners’ desire for more renewable electricity while also addressing the specific concerns of local citizens, residents and property owners.”
A survey done as part of the input process showed 62 per cent of Southern Lakes residents support the project with 77 per cent of Whitehorse residents and 61 per cent of residents from other Yukon communities supporting the project provided it’s demonstrated there is minimal environmental impact.
“We took some comfort in that,” Hall said of the survey results showing a majority of Yukoners support the project.
It was noted work to assess the enhanced storage project got underway in 2009 as Yukon Energy was looking at ways to increase the amount of renewable electricity generated every winter.
The company finished the final round of public engagement in January 2020 with a report outlining the findings from the public input and surveys published in May.
It was noted through the YESSA process, there will be another opportunity for the public to share their views about the proposed project.
In the meantime, Yukon Energy says it will continue working with First Nations and residents in the Southern Lakes area to finalize key components of the proposal such as fieldwork for a heritage resources impact assessment; a monitoring and adaptive management plan that will track potential effects of the project and outline how Yukon Energy will make adjustments, if needed, to address any significant impacts; negotiating project-specific benefits agreements with First Nations; meeting with property owners expected to be directly affected by the project to review and confirm the company’s erosion and groundwater mitigation plans; and develop an adjudication process for property owners who experience unexpected impacts, should the project be implemented, to file concerns and seek additional mitigation.
“There’s a lot of things that happen in parallel,” Hall said of the steps that will happen to prepare the YESSA documents.
While Yukon Energy continues to be in discussions with First Nations about the plans, more meetings will likely get underway in early 2021 as efforts to submit the documents next summer continue.
If YESAB recommends the project go ahead following the assessment, Yukon Energy would take it to the Yukon Water Board and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That would likely happen in 2022 and would provide further public input opportunities.
It’s anticipated the earliest Yukon Energy would be able to use any additional storage in the Southern Lakes, provided all approvals happen as expected, would be in the fall of 2023.
“Soon, we’ll leave it in the hands of YESAB to make their own impartial assessment of the project,” Hall said. “After 10 years, we believe all Yukon will appreciate having an independent third party involved at this stage to determine if we are right in our enthusiasm about the benefits we believe the Southern Lakes enhanced storage project provides Yukon.”
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