Whitehorse power dam

Yukon’s environmental assessment board has given the green light to Yukon Energy’s proposal to replace its aging back-up diesel generators in Whitehorse with ones that run on liquefied natural gas. (CBC)

Yukon’s environmental assessment board is recommending approval of Yukon Energy’s proposal to replace its aging back-up diesel generators in Whitehorse with ones that run on liquefied natural gas.

Ken McKinnon, acting chair of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, says the board hired the best consultants in Canada to review the project.

"Because of the quality of the comments, we really felt it was up to us to do a third, totally independent analysis of all the concerns that were raised,” McKinnon says.

The consultants concluded that the $40 million project will save ratepayers an estimated $63 million over the life of the project.

On air quality, they advise that LNG is cleaner than diesel.

And with proper staff training, they said the site can be safe.

"And believe me if our consultants had come up with anything different than Yukon Energy or the Public Utilities Board, our recommendations would be much different than they are," McKinnon says.

The board has set several terms and conditions in order for the project to mitigate its “significant adverse effects.”

It’s now up to the Yukon Government to decide whether the project will go ahead.

If approved, Yukon Energy will begin construction immediately, and have the new generators operating this winter.

Politicians still disagree on LNG

Yukon Energy Minister Scott Kent says the government will consider the assessment board’s recommendation, but says a final decision has yet to be made.

“It's the executive council's job to review the screening report and then issue that final decision document,” Kent says.

“Obviously, there were some terms and conditions they put in there. They did recognize that the project would have significant adverse environmental and/or socio-economic effects.”

The assessment board's decision has only added to a long-standing debate about the merits of liquefied natural gas.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has criticized Yukon Energy for beginning some of the work before YESAB recommendations, but he expects the project will go ahead.

“I can’t see them backing away from this right now.”

NDP energy critic Kate White says the issue goes beyond the backup generators.

“We’re talking about an entirely new infrastructure for liquefied natural gas. The gasification plant, the new turbines, all the rest of it. Wouldn’t it have been better if we could shorten our dependency with our eye on renewables?”

Both opposition parties say they would prefer investment in renewable energy.