Meeting the need for reliable backup power

Scott Kent PreferredAs submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, July 18th, 2014
by Scott Kent, Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation/Yukon Energy Corporation

Construction has begun on a facility to house two new liquefied natural gas (LNG) engines in Whitehorse, an important step toward improving the reliability and affordability of our backup power system for Yukon. Two diesel generators that have been operating for more than 45 years are scheduled for retirement. This project will replace them with newer, more efficient natural gas-fired engines.

As referenced in two independent life cycle assessments by ICF International and by the Pembina Institute natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gases, particulate and nitrogen oxide air emissions than diesel. Therefore, Yukon Energy has determined that natural gas is a cleaner and more affordable fossil fuel than diesel, and is the best choice at this time to help us ensure backup power is available. The two new natural gas engines will form a small portion of our overall energy supply, but will be an important element for us all.

From a health and human safety perspective, our government wants Yukoners to be confident that the lights will turn on and the furnace will start when needed, especially during the cold winter months when demand is often highest. In an isolated power grid such as we have in Yukon, there is no renewable source of energy that could provide reliable safe backup for peak power demand. LNG is our best backup option and we are excited that the project is proceeding.

The LNG facility will initially replace two diesel engines which are currently rated at 8 megawatts total capacity and are scheduled for imminent retirement. The natural gas engines have a total capacity rating of approximately 8.8 megawatts. A third natural gas engine may be added in the future which would add an additional 4.4 megawatts of backup capacity.

This project has undergone a number of important public review and approval processes, including a Part III review by the Yukon Utilities Board and an assessment by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB). Both public processes allowed Yukoners to learn more about this initiative and express their views. Both reviews resulted in recommendations that the project proceed, with the YESAB process recommending a number of terms and conditions, which were accepted by government and will be integrated into the project.

This project has been linked by some to concerns about hydraulic fracturing, as opposed to conventional methods of oil and gas extraction. Our government is well aware that these concerns exist, and that’s why the Yukon Legislative Assembly has established an all-party select committee to investigate the risks and benefits of hydraulic fracturing. In terms of the LNG to be used in the new generators, it will be sourced from southern Canada. Although there is no requirement that the LNG be extracted using conventional methods, we know that both diesel and LNG are sometimes obtained using the hydraulic fracturing process. Our position is that of the fossil fuels currently available for backup, natural gas is the best option.

The notion that this project is intended to promote natural gas development in Yukon is misguided. Were that perspective true, Yukon’s landscape would already be dotted with oil wells intended to replace the millions of litres of oil derivatives such as aviation fuel, gasoline, diesel, and furnace oil, already imported annually as it has been for decades.

Our government’s focus is to provide the cleanest and most affordable power alternatives possible to Yukon residents, with a range of sources ensuring the most secure supply. Yukon’s legacy hydro assets (Whitehorse, Aishihik, Mayo, Fish Lake) have provided a generation of Yukoners with clean, affordable renewable hydro-electric energy. We’re fortunate to have 95 per cent of our power generated by renewable sources, including the windmills on Haeckel Hill in Whitehorse, but primarily from hydro power.

However, as Yukon grows, it will need additional generating assets to meet the needs of the “next” generation. That is why our government is placing significant focus on implementing the work plan to achieve “next generation hydro” power in Yukon. Earlier this week, the Yukon Development Corporation announced it has awarded a contract for the critical public, First Nations and stakeholder engagement and consultation on this initiative. Ultimately, this work will lead to the construction of a new source of clean, affordable hydro power for our growing Yukon population and economy.

We also have a number of other initiatives underway, including a consultation on our draft independent power production policy, a joint study with Alaska to explore the feasibility of developing electrical and telecommunications connections with southeast Alaska, and the launch of our Micro-Generation Production Incentive Program.

This approach places Yukon in the best possible position to ensure reliable, clean, affordable power for all users. The LNG project which is now underway is an important component of our comprehensive energy strategy.