'Good news' says minister, as Yukon Energy scraps proposed thermal plant

Yukon Energy has pulled the plug on a proposal to build a new 20 MW thermal power plant in Whitehorse.

"This is good news for Yukoners," said Minister Responsible for Yukon Energy Ranj Pillai, told the Legislature on Tuesday of the utility's decision.

"Many of them question the value of making capital investments in the burning of fossil fuels, and would rather pursue renewable energy options for Yukon."

Yukon Energy pitched the thermal plant as an affordable and reliable way to meet the territory's growing demand for power. The company said it would provide backup during peak consumption periods, or during emergencies.

Yukon Energy did public consultations earlier this year, including open houses in Whitehorse, an online survey, and discussions with local businesses. The company focused on fuel options for the plant (liquefied natural gas, diesel or both), and several possible locations in and around Whitehorse. 

A subsequent report described how many Yukoners weren't so hot on the idea, and instead urged Yukon Energy to pursue renewable energy options such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind power.

Steve Hossack / CBC

"Yukon is currently enjoying a period of population and economic growth. And with that comes increased demand for energy," Pillai said.

"But Yukoners have expressed concerns about this project at a time when we need to be focused on the future and how to meet our energy needs in the face of climate change emergency."

Pillai said Yukon Energy will instead focus on options "to add or replace capacity to Yukon's existing generation facilities."

'A success and an opportunity'

The announcement on Tuesday got a mixed reaction in the Legislature.

NDP Leader Kate White applauded the utility, saying many people were "rightly frustrated" with the proposed thermal plant.

"It seemed as though Yukon Energy Corporation's renewable energy projects were taking a backseat to non-renewable projects," she said.

Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada

She called the company's decision to pull the plug "a success and an opportunity."

"It also represents a challenge to us as elected officials to push for more investments in renewable energy, and creative ways to reduce our peak winter load that partially spurred the need for this project."

Yukon Party critic for Yukon Energy Wade Istchenko, meanwhile, questioned whether the territory will be prepared for a power failure.

"We need to have enough energy in place in case of an emergency ... no one wants to be stuck without power, particularly those who use electric heat in the middle of –40 weather."