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Yukon Energy talks the talk

Dr. Chary Rangacharyulu is used to abuse. After giving presentations on nuclear energy, the physicist prof has been shoved in the chest and told to go back to his lab.

Dr. Chary Rangacharyulu is used to abuse.

After giving presentations on nuclear energy, the physicist prof has been shoved in the chest and told to go back to his lab.

But in Whitehorse he got applause.

Rangacharyulu was one of the more than 20 guest speakers invited to participate in Yukon Energy’s charette this week.

And he wants to see a nuclear reactor built in the territory.

“Nuclear is not such a dirty word,” said Rangacharyulu.

It’s responsible for 15 to 20 per cent of the world’s energy. France gets 75 per cent of its energy from nuclear.

And as for the radiation risk -“You get more radiation sleeping next to your spouse for a year,” he said.

But some of Wood Street School’s experimental science students weren’t convinced.

“We still have no idea what to do with nuclear waste,” said Grade 11 student Noah Sternbergh, who was attending the charette with her class.

“And if we don’t know how to deal with the problem, then we shouldn’t be making it worse.”

Diesel is not the best option either, added classmate Amanda Mervyn.

“It’s not a renewable resource and we shouldn’t be relying on it.”

David Dunn would argue otherwise.

The petroleum engineer was at the charette to talk up natural gas.

“When you look out that window, you see wonderful mountains,” he said, pointing at the view from the Mt. McIntyre rec centre.

“I see a geological basin where there should be gas.”

The Yukon has lots of natural gas reserves, he said, mentioning Eagle Plains, the Bonnet Plume, Old Crow, the Liard Basin and the Whitehorse trough.

It’s just a matter of getting it out of the ground and firing up the generators.

Stretching a pipeline from Eagle Plains down the Dempster to Stewart Crossing would cost about $500 million, said Dunn.

But there are faster, cheaper options.

The gas could be compressed, liquefied and shipped in tanker trucks, he said.

That way, if the mines shut down, there isn’t going to be a pricey pipeline sitting empty, he said.

“It’s cleaner than oil and coal,” added Dunn.

“But we shouldn’t be investing in anything that is not a renewable resource,” said Sternbergh.

“It’s just buying time rather than solving the problem,” added Mervyn.

The problem is that the Yukon is fast running out of power.

Right now, the grid is only capable of supplying the territory with 375 gigawatt hours of power.

But in the next five years, Yukon Energy will need to come up with roughly 200 more gigawatt hours of power - more, if all the mines come online.

This is why the utility is holding a three-day charette, to brainstorm its options.

There’s lots of coal under Division Mountain, said Yukon Energy consultant Cam Osler.

Coal only costs about 10 cents a kilowatt hour and there’s enough of it in the Yukon to power the grid for at least 20 years, he said.

“The big kicker is the environmental impact,” said Osler.

“It’s not clean energy.”

The Yukon is at a turning point, said electrical engineer and solar expert Gordon Howell.

The Yukon’s “small size and isolation is forcing you to deal with a lot of issues the rest of the country hasn’t seen yet,” he said.

“And the solutions you come up with will set an example.

“It will be interesting to see how resolute you are in not being swayed by all the carbon options like natural gas and coal,” said Howell.

Although solar would be most useful in the summer, when there is already plenty of water flowing over Yukon Energy’s dam, Howell would still like to see the utility set up a small-scale solar project.

“You need a diversity of sources so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket,” he said.

Running a little solar system, Yukon Energy would get a better understanding of how it works, he said.

“It’s not like liquefied natural gas, where you’re trucking fuels all over the place.

“Or like running a transmission line to BC - then BC controls our electricity.”

BC Hydro is currently extending its transmission line to Bob Quinn Lake.

It would cost a minimum of $1.4 billion to build the 900 kilometres of power lines needed to link the Yukon to that grid.

But at that price the Yukon would only get 270 megawatts of power out of BC.

If it wanted more than 1,000 megawatts, the price goes up to $2.4 billion.

“The Yukon’s remote and isolated, which is fantastic,” said Howell.

“You should preserve that.”

Solar wasn’t the only green option on the table during talks Tuesday.

Consultant Timothy Sadlier-Brown pulled up an image of the world with a red swath running through all the countries sitting on the ring of fire.

Starting with New Zealand and running north through the Philippines, Japan and Russia, he talked about how these countries have harnessed their geothermal power.

Even Alaska has geothermal plants, he said.

But between Alaska and California, there is a big dark swath - through the Yukon and BC - where geothermal power is not being harnessed.

Back on in California, geothermal plants power countries all the way down South America’s coast, including El Salvador and Chile.

It’s a reliable source of energy, said Sadlier-Brown.

“And it’s down there.”

Dr. Fernando Preto was more interested in our forests.

“I like to burn things,” said the Natural Resources Canada research assistant.

And the Yukon has lots of wood to burn.

“What should Yukon Energy do?” he asked.

“It should build a wood pellet plant.”

Preto pulled up an aerial image of Beaver Creek.

He’d marked off a section of forest roughly the size of Beaver Creek’s airport - eight square kilometres.

Harvesting and replanting that area of forest would be all the energy you’d need to run a one-megawatt generator indefinitely, he said.

Throw in the Yukon’s 2,000 square kilometres of beetle-killed bush and all the forest ravaged by forest fires (85 per cent of that wood is salvageable) and the Yukon could easily generate 25 megawatts of power using biomass.

All Yukon Energy needs is 20 acres and $86.5 million, he said.

Manitoba is in a similar boat as the Yukon, he said.

It’s running out of power and dealing with lots of isolated communities.

“And its setting up five (biomass) projects,” said Preto.

The Yukon already has one, he added.

“The first gasifier in Canada was built here.”

The furnace sits in the basement of Yukon College.

“But it was never used,” said Preto.

“It’s just something to think about.”

Yukon Energy can’t predict the future, said keynote speaker and Simon Fraser University resource management prof Mark Jaccard.

So instead of choosing one possible future and opting for an energy solution that fits it “perfectly,” the utility needs to look at five possible futures and find a solution that serves all of them “well,” he said.

But politics gets in the way, said Howell.

Yukon Energy “wants to expand its infrastructure to attract mines, which in turn attract jobs and votes,” he said.

And when the mines “go away,” the utility is left with surplus power, said Howell.

It’s like building a highway, he said.

“If it’s congested at rush hour, they make the road bigger, even if there are no cars on it at 4 a.m.”

That’s how electrical systems are sized, he said.

And in the Yukon, with its small population and grid, when “one mine comes in, it blows your infrastructure to smithereens,” said Howell.

At least Yukon Energy is making an attempt to engage the public, he said.

A good utility involves local municipalities, First Nations, industry, environmental groups and the public, said Jaccard.

“I hope they aren’t just holding this public meeting but already have a plan,” said Mervyn.

“They did seem genuinely happy the youth were here,” she said.

“And they seem like they genuinely want our views,” added Sternbergh.

“Now we have to wait and see if they put them to use.”

Sternbergh and Mervyn would like to see Yukon Energy use hydro, solar and geothermal to meet its energy demands.

“We have all this geothermal potential, there’s no reason not to develop it,” said Sternbergh.

“It’s just sitting there not doing anything.”

And it’s better than being dependent on diesel, she said.

“Especially when problems in one country, like Libya, force prices up.”

“The Yukon could set an amazing example for the country,” said Howell.

And it’s telling that Pierre Guimond, the president of the Canadian Electricity Association is here, he said.

That he’s interested in what a community that produces 400 gigawatts of power is up to, when the rest of the country produces more than 600,000, says a lot, said Howell.

“There are new options on the table, and standard options we know so well,” said Guimond.

“The fact is we have to make sound choices, because these choices will be rolled into equipment that will be there for the next 60 years.

“So we have to choose wisely.”

The last public information session for the charette is tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mt. McIntrye rec centre.

Contact Genesee Keevil at