The Yukon Energy dam in Whitehorse in 2015. Yukon Energy will be running its diesel generators in Whitehorse for a little longer and more than normal this spring thanks to the unusually low snowpack from the winter of 2018-19 and the break-down of one of its liquid natural gas generator. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Yukon Energy running more diesel, investigating Riverdale noise complaints

President and CEO Andrew Hall said a noise monitor is in use to collect data in various locations

Yukon Energy will be running its diesel generators in Whitehorse for a little longer and more often than normal this spring thanks to the unusually low snowpack from the winter of 2018-19 and the break-down of a liquid natural gas generator.

“We got into a particular situation just this quarter where we found that we were arriving at the bottom of our reservoirs and we have to run diesel for a couple of weeks just to get us through to … the spring melt,” Yukon Energy president and CEO Andrew Hall said in an interview April 23.

There’s about a year-long delay between a snowfall and when utility can use the water to generate electricity, Hall explained — the snowpack any given year melts and enters one of three reservoirs over the summer, and the water is then used over the fall and winter.

The water levels in the reservoirs were already low at the end of 2019 because of the dry winter, and colder-than-normal temperatures this January to April caused both an increase in demand for electricity and reduction of inflows into the reservoir.

Combined with losing the use of one of its three liquid natural gas (LNG) generators over the Easter long weekend, Yukon Energy was left with little choice but to turn to diesel, Hall said.

A Yukon Energy press release said the utility expects that it will need to generate about 16.5 gigawatt hours of electricity using “thermal resources” in April and early May, or about enough to power 16,500 homes for a month. Of that, 72 per cent is expected to be generated using LNG, with the remaining 28 per cent, diesel.

Hall acknowledged that there have been complaints from Riverdale residents about the noise created by the diesel generators.

“I mean, obviously we’re sensitive to the complaints — we certainly don’t intend to disrupt people’s lives, but we’re in a pretty tight spot here,” he said.

However, while there are typically comments whenever Yukon Energy runs them, Hall said something seemed to be different this time around.

“Something seems to be odd … this time because we’re getting a lot more complaints than normal, which we’re a bit puzzled by,” he said.

Hall said there’s “speculation” that the rise in complaints could be because there’s no more snow on the ground and trees to help muffle the noise like in the dead of winter, or because more people are at home now due to COVID-19. To get more “facts and data,” Yukon Energy has flown up a noise monitor from Vancouver, which was placed at a substation across the river from the generators for 24 hours beginning the night of April 22. It was then move to a Riverdale resident’s backyard the night of April 23.

Hall said the monitor will be moved to a “couple of different locations” for 24-hours periods.

“We want to understand, what is the level of noise?” he said. “I mean, we know we’re getting complaints but let’s just ground ourselves in some data… There are various guidelines out there that are generally followed in the Yukon so we just want to see, where are we landing compared to those benchmarks?”

Yukon Energy will also be looking at its equipment over the weekend to see if there’s “a particular engine that’s really being noisy” that can be shut down once water levels have stabilized, or any other internal issues that might be causing more noise than normal.

While installing soundproofing might be possible, Hall said that’s a long-term solution that requires some investigation to happen first.

“In terms of addressing the problem we have today with noise, we can’t just go in and put in soundproofing — we wouldn’t know where to start with that, really,” he said.

Hall said he’s was hopeful Yukon Energy would be able to cut back on the use of the diesel generators in a week or two if warm temperatures continue and meltwater starts replenishing the reservoirs.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Yukon Energy

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