If it seems like there’s been an uptick in power outages this summer in the Yukon compared to last year, that’s because there has been. Unplanned power outages in communities connected to the territory’s main grid in June 2023 increased roughly 27 per cent year-on-year.
This is according to data provided to the News by Yukon Energy, which states that there were 15 unplanned power outages in communities connected to the Yukon grid in June of this year versus 11 in June 2022.
And while official outage figures for July are not yet available, Yukon Energy director of mechanical operations Willy McKenna, said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were more outages in July  than in previous Julys.”
Meanwhile, Tony Badry, manager at electric utility company ATCO Electric Yukon, said the frequency of unplanned power disruptions this summer has been “a little bit more than that it has been in recent years.”
ATCO serves more than 19,000 customers in 19 communities across the territory.
While by no means authoritative, a cursory scan of ATCO’s Facebook page showed at least 13 posts about unexpected power outages across the Yukon between July 1 and Aug. 8. That number rises considerably when factoring in posts about planned and emergency outages. During the same period in 2022, ATCO posted roughly five times about unplanned outages.
One particularly notable July power outage, which impacted parts of Whitehorse, Carcross and Tagish among other areas, saw Yukon Energy lose 20 megawatts of electricity. The service disruption occurred on July 6 and lasted roughly 45 minutes.
The causes of this summer’s unplanned power outages are numerous, according to Badry, including environmental factors, like wildfires and storms, equipment failure and loss of supply from Yukon Energy.
“Most of the [outages] that you’re seeing, that most people see, are really a loss of supply from Yukon Energy […] Those are the bigger outages because it affects different areas of [Whitehorse],” Badry said.
As an example, Badry noted that Whitehorse’s Porter Creek neighbourhood had lost power five times since mid-June due to losses of supply.
According to McKenna, Yukon Energy is currently generating the 45 megawatts needed to provide electricity to all the Yukon via hydro generation. Loss of supply occurs when one of the territory’s seven hydro generators goes offline, with component failure highlighted as a possible cause.
“Because we, in the Yukon, are on an islanded grid, we can’t just rely on generators down south to supplement that loss of supply,” McKenna said. “If our other generators can’t handle that increase in demand because that one generator went offline, we have what’s called ‘under frequency load shedding.’”
Under frequency load shedding is where part of the grid will be disconnected to prevent “a cascading effect” that could result in a grid-wide outage, according to McKenna. Load shedding is reversed when Yukon Energy can regain full power generation capabilities.
“Yukon Energy is very quick at picking up, you know, generating more power for us and picking it up again, so then we can pick our customers back up,” Badry said.
Weather events, such as the intense storms that hammered Whitehorse and the Southern Lakes region towards the end of July, have also contributed to unexpected power outages.
“There are some [outages] caused by the storms, like in the south, like Tagish. In that area, we had extensive outages, like July 22-23, when that storm hit. We had customers out for a few days,” said Badry.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister John Streicker said he’s aware that “it did appear” there have been more frequent outages this summer. He has asked for an analysis of the causes of the outages.
“Are the outages environmental in nature, or are they system-related? […] I have asked to get some, a look at, or a sense from the technicians [about] what is causing those outages,” Streicker said.
— additional reporting by Dana Hatherly
Contact Matthew Bossons at firstname.lastname@example.org