Yukon Energy's diesel generators too loud, says Whitehorse woman

Yukon Energy's hydroelectric dam in Whitehorse in 2019.   (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)
Yukon Energy's hydroelectric dam in Whitehorse in 2019. (Mike Rudyk/CBC - image credit)

A jet engine. That's what Yukon Energy's diesel generators sound like, if you ask Jane Maxwell.

The Whitehorse resident has lived in the city's Riverdale neighbourhood for three years. She didn't notice the noise until the pandemic hit and she found herself working from her home, close to the river where Yukon Energy's dam, and generators, are located.

Andrew Hall, president and CEO of Yukon Energy, says low water levels that spring meant the company relied more heavily on its generators. He says resident complaints triggered a noise assessment in 2020.

Maxwell says the noise is annoying, but she understands the need for it.

"We love our neighbourhood. We love being close to the river," she said. "We understand that the territory needs energy, and that thermal is going to be part of that right now."

Her main concern is the way the noise assessment was conducted by Hemmera Envirochem Inc.

The five-page report classifies Riverdale as an urban neighbourhood. That assumes a certain baseline volume level.

Maxwell says it's a stretch to call Riverdale "urban." She wishes Hemmera had measured a real-time baseline volume level for the neighbourhood, the way it did for the Whitehorse rapids generating station and the substation opposite that station.

She also has questions about a calculation in the report that says the baseline volume level for Riverdale is louder than the measurement taken when the generators are in operation.

Maxwell was hoping to bring her questions to a public meeting this month.

In December, Riverdale residents received a letter from Yukon Energy. It gave the dates of two public meetings, on Jan. 17 and Jan. 19. The meetings are part of the process for Yukon Energy to renew its thermal permit this year, which allows the company to operate diesel generators.

However, on Jan. 16, those meetings were pushed back to March.

Philippe Morin/CBC
Philippe Morin/CBC

The letter also encouraged Riverdale residents to email or call with questions. Maxwell did. She hasn't received any answers.

"There's no accountability," she says. "Noise pollution is one thing, but Yukon Energy deals with a lot of sensitive environments and that sort of thing. So if this is an approach that they're taking to impact assessment, that is very important to me."

Hall says the public meetings were delayed because Yukon Energy is currently working on a strategy to meet strict new air emissions guidelines. Those guidelines are slated to come into effect in 2025.

He says meeting those measures will impact noise levels. That makes potential mitigation strategies a moving target.

As for Maxwell's questions, Hall says Yukon Energy "hasn't really chewed through" them yet. He says it's something the company will dig into when its permit application is brought forward.

"The bottom line is, you know, the whole regulatory process and us getting a permit is designed to protect the public in the sense that you're not going to get a permit for something that's out of spec," Hall said.

"We certainly recognize folks have their concerns, but there is a regulatory process we're going to go through and yes, it's very public."