Yukon Energy stares into the dark

Yukon Energy Corporation is running out of power. And it makes David Morrison jumpy. During a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, the utility president admitted Yukon Energy was facing a "capacity gap.

Yukon Energy Corporation is running out of power.

And it makes David Morrison jumpy.

During a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday, the utility president admitted Yukon Energy was facing a “capacity gap.”

And it’s not small.

Within five years, Yukon Energy will need to come up with roughly 200 more gigawatt hours of power.

Currently, the grid is only capable of supplying the territory with 375 gigawatt hours.

When Morrison took the reign seven years ago, there was a surplus of power.

Now, the utility must run diesel just to keep the lights on.

And demand continues to grow.

Minto mine is drawing five megawatts of power from the grid.

It’s a lot.

But growing residential demand is even greater.

When Whistle Bend subdivision is at full capacity, it will draw 10 megawatts, said Morrison.

“That’s two Minto mines.”

With the Yukon fast running out of power, Morrison admits he “is nervous.”

The utility doesn’t have a concrete plan to solve the territory’s energy shortage.

But Morrison has some ideas.

The utility is considering setting up wind generators on Ferry Hill.

But that’s still a few years off.

And it would only offer spotty power, said Morrison.

If the wind is blowing, Ferry Hill could generate 20 megawatts.

But if there’s no wind, there’s no power.

The utility is more optimistic about its plans to store water in Atlin Lake, Marsh Lake and a chain of lakes in the Kluane area called Gladstone.

But Atlin residents are united in their opposition to the Atlin Lake project, which would hold water levels at their season high for months longer.

“The people in Atlin are not very keen about this,” said Morrison.

“But we’re very keen.”

Yukon Energy is currently studying what would happen to the lake and the fish, if it raised water levels.

The company doing the studies was hired by the utility.

“Let us do our science, then we’ll talk about it,” said Morrison.

“Everybody wants us to have clean energy, but not necessarily in their backyard.”

Marsh Lake residents have been much more receptive, he said.

But storing water in Marsh Lake would only give Yukon Energy nine gigawatt hours of power, while Atlin and Gladstone would each generate 18 gigawatt hours.

The Gladstone project involves redirecting the flow of water running from three chain lakes.

The science is finished, said Morrison.

But after Morrison finished his speech, someone raised a bigger issue.

Wouldn’t it be the first time a body of water’s flow has been reversed across an international boundary?

Water now flowing into Alaska would suddenly be reversed and flow back into the Yukon.

That is an issue, said Morrison, admitting Gladstone might not happen.

But Yukon Energy has more rabbits in its hat.

The utility is considering turning waste into energy.

However, this might not generate enough power to make it worthwhile, said Morrison.

Yukon Energy’s most substantial plan is to get Yukoners to use less power.

Morrison calls this “demand-side management.”

And the utility has worked it into its long-term forecasts.

But even with demand-side management added to the mix, the thin red line marking the Yukon’s growing demand for energy soars far above the projected supply.

Natural gas is another possibility, said Morrison.

“But it’s not as clean.”

Yukon Energy would get the gas from Alaska, or from the Alaska Highway Pipeline, if it’s built.

That’s another big “if.”

Finally, the utility could hook into BC’s grid.

“But that’s not a number with an M behind it,” said Morrison.

“That would be a number with a B behind it.”

Whatever the utility decides, Yukon ratepayers will be on the hook.

“Most jurisdictions are connected to other jurisdictions in Canada or the US,” said Morrison.

“But we have a stranded grid, which means only Yukoners can pay for new generation and distribution of power.”

When Alexco’s Bellekeno Mine joined the grid this year, it added a load, said Morrison, admitting Yukon Energy turned on diesels to power the mine.

“But Alexco is not part of the problem,” he said.

“It’s part of the solution.”

Industrial customers, like Alexco and Minto pay 10 cents a kilowatt hour for power.

Residential customers pay 13 cents a kilowatt hour.

But that doesn’t mean residential customers are subsidizing mines, said Morrison.

“Industrial customers pay more than 100 per cent of what they use.”

If Yukon mines like Casino eventually join the grid, Yukon Energy will be scrambling.

“Casino will need twice the amount of power we have in the Yukon right now,” said Morrison.

If the system requirements continue to grow, and Yukon Energy can’t bridge the gap with clean energy, it will have to build more diesel generators, he said.

But diesel is not cheap.

It costs 30 cents a kilowatt hour, said Morrison.

Yukon Energy isn’t surprised by the growing demand, he said.

But Morrison is surprised that peak energy usage is rising and staying up for much longer.

“We need to get people to consume less,” he said.

“It’s a challenge.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com