Question re: Energy supply and demand - April 16, 2013

Mr. Silver: One of the predominant themes of this sitting is a lack of planning done by this government when it comes to major issues. We have seen this with the new F.H. Collins Secondary School, with the two new rural hospitals, with doctor recruitment, with the Peel watershed, with the housing strategy and, of course, when it comes to planning for our energy future. We are facing a looming power supply shortage in the Yukon. We are fast approaching a power supply cliff, and even the minister himself has acknowledged that. One of the reasons we’re in this situation is a lack of planning from the government. A project the government is looking at in Skagway recently was trying to get money to fund a feasibility study. According to the Mayor of Skagway, the chances of the municipality getting a feasibility study funded are pretty slim. This is a $140-million project that is years away from happening, if it ever will. Has the Yukon Development Corporation spent any of its own money on this project?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: At this point in time, regarding the project that the member is specifically speaking to, the West Creek potential project, very preliminary discussions have gone on. The Premier and I, along with the Minister of Economic Development, did discuss the potential for this with Governor Parnell. The mayor may feel that there is not a good chance for a feasibility study of the project getting done. We heard a very different indication from the governor. I would point out it is just one of the projects that is being looked at. It is one that certainly holds some potential, but what we see in fact, contrary to the member’s assertions, is that the members simply don’t do their research to understand the work that has been done and the planning that has been done to address matters, including capital project planning and addressing Yukon’s current and future energy needs.

Mr. Silver: Over the last number of years, the Energy Corporation has spent millions of dollars on studies that have gone nowhere for various reasons. It is now chasing a $140- million project in Skagway for which it can’t even get its own government to fund a feasibility study. It spent over $2 million at Atlin studying a project that the Government of British Columbia eventually turned into a park. The corporation has also spent millions of dollars in Marsh Lake and Gladstone River on district heating, wind and biomass. Almost $20 million has been spent on planning and we continue to run short on supply. When is this government going to move beyond studying projects and actually proceed with one that will increase our power supply?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: Again what I would point out to the member is that, in fact, the project that he is referring to, contrary to the spin he is putting on it in Question Period, is one that we’ve identified as something that has potential years down the road. There would certainly be a lot of work required to see the West Creek project be actualized. At this point, no significant investment of money has occurred. It’s at very preliminary stages. One of the next steps would be getting a clearer understanding of what the costs entailed would be should the West Creek hydro project come to fruition. Significant money has been spent, as the member has noted. I would again remind the member, as I have articulated on several occasions here in this House, that since being sworn in, in the fall of 2011, as minister responsible for Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation, the message that I have consistently relayed on behalf of government to both corporations is that we want them to be focused in their efforts and to focus any significant expenditures of planning money on projects that are likely to be permitted and that stand the best chance for providing solutions to Yukon’s energy needs. That is what we have indicated to the corporations and will continue to indicate.

Mr. Silver: I know that the government is sensitive about this topic, and it should be. Instead of spending two years trying to sell Yukon Energy off to Alberta, the government should have been hard at work looking for ways to increase our energy supply so that we don’t end up burning diesel. The bottom line is that the Energy Corporation has spent more than $20 million on studies and has little to show for it. Because these projects are all funded out of the Energy Corporation, they escape the scrutiny of the Legislative Assembly. With the amount of money being spent, I believe it should be done in-house by the government. There is a need for change in policy, both to improve accountability to the public and to protect ratepayers. Will the government consider moving these planning exercises into the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: It looks like the Member for Klondike has perhaps read the protocol that we put into place. We have updated the protocol between the Yukon Development Corporation and I, as well with the letter of expectations from me on behalf of the government to the Yukon Development Corporation, the parent for Yukon Energy Corporation. That includes making the minister responsible for policy and clearly delineating government’s lead responsibility in that, so we are continuing to do work in that area. Some of the other assertions that the member is trying to bring up in past spectres of events that went on in 2009 really are quite bizarre and rich, considering what actually transpired at that point. Those records are in the media and have been for years, and really, it’s time we focus right now on where we are going from here, planning for Yukon’s energy future, having the corporations focus their efforts on areas that are most likely to achieve successful results, and to focus on our priorities of minimizing the financial risk to taxpayers and ratepayers, ensuring that Yukon’s electrical system remains strong now and for years to come.