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Yukon Energy eyes more diesel generators to meet winter demand

The Yukon government is pushing to get more renewable power online, but until then, it will have to rely on diesel generators to keep the lights on.

Utility plans to rent 17 generators this year at a cost of $4.1M

Ranj Pillai, Yukon's minister of Economic Development and minister of Energy, Mines, and Resources, speaks with reporters in November 2019. The Yukon government is pushing to get more renewable power online, but until then, it will have to rely on diesel generators. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Yukon Energy will rely on nearly twice as many diesel generators compared to last year to meet demand for electricity this winter.

Responding to questions from the opposition Yukon Party Thursday, energy minister Ranj Pillai confirmed the utility will rent 17 portable diesel generators this year, at a cost of $4.1 million. Last year Yukon Energy rented nine generators at a cost of $2.2 million, plus fuel.

Pillai acknowledged that renting diesel generators is not an ideal solution, but said it's necessary until the Yukon can get more renewable power online.

"Although $4.1 million is a significant sum of money, when you're taking into consideration that you are ensuring the safety of all Yukoners on the grid, I think that's an important investment," he said.

Yukon faces growing electrical demand

In recent years, Yukon Energy has faced a major increase in electrical demand, spurred by growth of the territory's population and the number of new homes heated with electricity. At the same time, the government has laid out an ambitious strategy to slash greenhouse gas emissions and dramatically increase the number of electric vehicles on Yukon roads.

Last year, the territory scrapped plans for a permanent 20-megawatt thermal power plant in Whitehorse that would have run on diesel, liquefied natural gas, or a combination of the two.

Copperbelt South MLA Scott Kent says it was a mistake for the Liberal government to cancel plans for a 20-MW thermal power plant last year. (Chris WIndeyer/CBC)

Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent said that was a mistake.

"There was some shortsightedness with the Liberal decision last year to cancel that plant in favour of renting diesel generators for the foreseeable future," Kent told reporters. "They didn't perhaps think it all the way through how long it would take them to get additional renewable solutions ... on board."

'We would be tied to the past'

NDP leader Kate White said the permanent thermal plant would have taken 35 years for the Yukon government to pay off.

"The idea that we would tie ourselves to an outdated, dirty technology for more than a generation means that instead of spending that money towards the future, we would be tied to the past," she said. 

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White says a permanent thermal power plant would have tied the territory to fossil fuels for up to 35 years. (CBC)

Pillai said he's hopeful a proposed nine-megawatt hydro plant to be built in partnership with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation will begin in the next one to two years. But figures from Yukon Energy show the utility plans to rely on rented diesel generators to meet demand until at least 2028.

Seven of the rental generators will be located in Faro, Yukon and 10 in Whitehorse. Kent said the cost of trucking diesel north will make the rentals even more expensive.

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