Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Chuck Tobin

FIRST THINGS FIRST – If the feasibility study proves positive, says Peter Kirby (above), president of Xeitl, one of the first orders of business would be negotiating a power purchase agreement with Yukon Energy.

Importing hydro from Atlin to be studied

The feasibility of shipping surplus hydro energy from Atlin to Whitehorse is under investigation.

By Chuck Tobin on October 5, 2015

The feasibility of shipping surplus hydro energy from Atlin to Whitehorse is under investigation.

The Atlin Energy Project, which became operational in 2009, involves water from Surprise Lake being funnelled down along Pine Creek to a power house.

It took the community off diesel generation, and there is still some surplus energy.

Whether generating capacity at the facility can be increased enough to support a tie-in to the Yukon grid is being looked at by Yukon Energy and Tlingit Homeland Energy owned by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

The feasibility study will look at the economics, including how much Yukon Energy would be willing to pay for power from Atlin.

The feasibility includes the price of a 100-kilometre transmission line to Jakes Corner, and how much electricity would be lost because of natural line loss.

It includes environmental considerations such as the impacts on Surprise Lake, the storage reservoir that supports the hydro system in the same way Schwatka Lake and the Southern Lakes serve as a storage reservoir for the Whitehorse Rapids Dam.

The Atlin proposal was explained last week at a workshop sponsored by the Yukon Conservation Society to look at alternatives to the territorial government’s desire for a new major hydro dam on one of six Yukon Rivers.

Peter Kirby, president of Xeitl, the Tlingit company that owns the existing Atlin hydro facility, told some 85 workshop participants the expansion proposal looks good so far.

“If the numbers line up, we will go ahead and build it,” he said.

The existing hydro project has a generating capacity of 2.1 megawatts, about half of one of the new LNG backup generators installed by Yukon Energy, it was explained.

It consists of a 3.9-kilometre penstock or pipeline running down from Surprise Lake along Pine Creek to a power house. There is the potential to twin the penstock, more than doubling the generating capacity.

The pre-feasibility study into the proposal began last summer with financial support from the federal government, Yukon Energy and the Tlingit First Nation’s development corporation.

Yukon Energy has so far kicked in $100,000 to look at the potential.

With a green light following completion of the prefeasibility study this past summer, the project is now in the feasibility study stage.

In an separate interview, Kirby explained he expects the feasibility study will be completed around this time next year.

At this time, it’s too early to speculate about the cost of expanding the facility, or how long construction might take, he said.

If the feasibility study is positive a year from now, Kirby said, one of the first orders of business would be negotiating a power purchase agreement with Yukon Energy.

Kirby said outside the technical feasibility studies and project logistics, he’d like to see more recognition of Atlin’s direct ties to the Yukon.

Culturally, socially and economically, it’s part of the Yukon, and should be seen as such, he said.

Culturally, Kirby said, the Taku River Tlingits are tied to the Tlingits of Carcross, Tagish and Teslin.

The First Nation has a transboundary land claim in the Yukon, he said.

Kirby said this project should not be seen as importing power from Outside the territory, but rather as supporting a homegrown initiative.

“On every level, we are really part of the Yukon, other than that line at the 60th parallel,” he said.

Since the Atlin Hydro Project was commissioned in 2009, it’s estimated it’s displaced 1.3 million litres of diesel fuel annually and 4,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Kirby said its annual profits are subject to corporate confidentiality, though he did say they strive to make the same rate of return on their investment as other utilities – but it’s now money first.

The primary purpose of the Atlin Power Project was and is to serve the community with an asset that is 100 per cent owned by the Taku River Tlingits, he explained.

Kirby told last week’s conference the project has been much more than a business success.

It’s created employment opportunities, and has provided the First Nation with an asset that can be used to leverage other financial opportunities.

Perhaps most of all, it’s been a source of immense pride, he said, recalling the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2009.

“The pride at that moment was unbelievable.”

Comments (4)

Up 0 Down 2

Paul Lucas on May 5, 2016 at 6:37 am

This is a perfect example of corporation, only beholden to its bottom line and with no regard for the community in which it resides, attempting to buldoze its way through a process while withholding information from the many stakeholders involved.

As laid out, this project will create a 25 metre gash along Pine Creek, right through a residential area that lines that creek, a gash that involves a penstock, access road and transmission power lines, and the heavy equipment construction, blasting and upheaval that all involves. It will severely deplete the water flow in Pine Creek, so much that the winter flow is likely to be zero.

It will eliminate the campground, alter terrain along Warm Bay road and the Arts Centre road and build a powerhouse in Atlin's favourite recreational area. But that is a corporation for you......

Up 1 Down 0

Athea on Oct 31, 2015 at 12:26 pm

As a resident of Atlin, I can say there are unhappy Atlinites due to the lack of Community consultation. None has taken place thus far. Unfortunately how the community found out about the project was through the seismic blasting done without the residents in the area or the community being informed or allerted. Houses shook and windows rattled. The area where the proposed plant is to be located by Atlin lake is in between the Pine Creek Campground and the Pine Creek trail to the lake. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the next few weeks.

Up 1 Down 0

Tim Fordyce on Oct 29, 2015 at 12:41 pm

I understand there is already ground work associated with this "Study" taking place before the study.

Up 9 Down 0

This is a good partnership if it can work on Oct 6, 2015 at 12:59 pm

This is the kinds of innovation we need in BC, Yukon and Alaska to work together with First Nations and Communities.

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