Yukon may want to tap Site C power to fuel new mines

Production drilling at the Minto copper mine 240 kilometres north of Whitehorse, Yukon. Image: Capstone Mining Corp.

Even if new transmission lines cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion, Yukon Energy and Mines minister said power from Site C could still be cheaper than building new power projects in the Yukon.

The Yukon government is considering spending more than $1 billion to build transmission lines to tap into B.C.'s power grid to power new mines.

Ranj Pillai, the Yukon government's minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, was speaking at the Association of Mineral Exploration's annual Roundup Monday, January 22, when he said new mines proposed for his province would require additional power sources, and that B.C.'s decision to move ahead on Site C dam provides one potential source of new power.

“There may be some excess clean energy available in the near future,” he said during a panel discussion on government and industry relations. “The Government of Yukon is researching the feasibility of increasing our hydro electric power by connecting to the British Columbia grid.”

Pillai later told Business in Vancouver that his government had been quietly watching the debate over Site C dam unfold. Despite the potential for the project to come in $2 billion over budget, the new NDP government decided in December that it will complete the controversial hydro-electric dam, at a new estimated cost of $10.7 billion.

“There was work done previously in our jurisdiction looking at this potential,” Pillai said. “We were sort of quietly waiting to see what would happen with the Site C decision, and certainly when the decision was made, it gave us the opportunity to think about some great potential, not just for the Yukon to look into, but potentially for British Columbia because of the vast mineral potential in northern British Columbia.”

Opponents of the dam have argued that B.C.'s load forecasts do not justify such a large amount of power coming online all at once in 2024 or 2025, and that B.C. will have a surplus of electricity.

A number of B.C. politicians have mused over the possibility of beefing up transmission lines between B.C. and Alberta, which will need new sources of clean electricity when it begins phasing out coal power. To date, Alberta appears to be lukewarm to that idea.

But the Yukon is very much interested in buying power from B.C. The Yukon currently generates enough power for its current needs, Pillai said. But there are a number of new mines proposed for the Yukon, and they will need power. So would some new mines proposed for northern B.C.

Pillai said his government has roughly estimated the cost of new transmission lines to be $1.5 billion to $2 billion. There may be some federal infrastructure money available to help pay the cost of the transmission lines.

After crunching the numbers, Pillai said his government thinks that, even if new transmission costs up to $2 billion, power from Site C would still be cheaper than any new power projects the Yukon could build.

“Looking at what the potential pricing was really excited me, compared to what we produce energy at,” he said.

Pillai said his government has done only preliminary “table-top” exercises to study the economics and feasibility of tying into B.C.'s grid.

“What we have to do is refine those numbers and see if those are actually accurate, and then look at speaking to the federal government.”

Asked if his government has been in talks with the B.C. government about the idea, Pillai said there have been only “light discussions.”

“We're looking to reach out out over the short-term to have bigger discussions,” he said.

— Business in Vancouver

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