Question re: Hydroelectric dam project - December 4, 2014

Mr. Silver:   In the summer of 2013, the Premier announced the government was moving forward on building a new hydroelectric dam. After the Yukon Party government and the former Energy, Mines and Resources minister spent several years trying to sell our hydro system to Alberta, this was a welcome change in direction.

However, from the first announcement, it took the government almost a full year to release a workplan for this project. That workplan, released in May of 2014 said — and I quote: “A next generation hydro project would likely be eight to 10 times the cost of the Mayo B hydro enhancement and transmission project.”

Mayo B cost $120 million. Can the minister confirm the government is looking at spending as much as $950 million to $1.2 billion on this new project?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    I should take the time to actually thank the Member for Mayo-Tatchun for actually attending the public workshop that was held — the first of several public workshops. I am not sure if the Member for Klondike was there, but by the sounds of his question, I don’t think he was. Had he been there, he would have had the opportunity to hear from the technical consultants that we have working on this project. We have two consultants: one who is engaged in community engagement aspects of the directive and the second — Midgard Consulting — was hired in August of this year to develop a series of technical papers that were identified.

There were well over 200 potential projects that initially showed up on the books as far as possible locations for a next generation hydro project here in the territory. The consultants, through a series of screenings, have taken that number down between 16 and 20. Obviously we have heard that there are some concerns out there within the public and others, and we will take those into account as we move toward the end of next year.

We are doing the planning necessary. This isn’t something that the Liberal Leader can assume that we’ll be able to do overnight. We wanted to take the time necessary to get this right. It is a very big project and it’s something that will leave a lasting legacy for all Yukoners.

Mr. Silver:   Of course, being one person in the party I can’t be everywhere, but I do appreciate the insult from the member opposite.

The previous Yukon Party Energy, Mines and Resources minister spent thousands of dollars and plenty of time trying to sell our energy future to Alberta. That plan lost a lot of time. The minister’s own workplan says that the new dam could cost as much as $1.2 billion. That is the entire Government of Yukon budget for a year. Any project of that size certainly involves borrowing money and would impact other capital projects that are on the horizon as well. Yukoners deserve to know what the scale of the proposed dam will be before it gets built.

Simple question: Has the government given any direction to YDC with regard to the limits of the cost of this project, or is it simply just the sky is the limit?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Again, we see the Leader of the Liberal Party criticizing the government on some occasions for not planning, and now we’re planning too much for this project.

Mr. Speaker, this is a project that will be the bookend for a clean power initiative and a clean power future for the territory. It is one of many projects that we’re looking at when it comes to renewable energy. It is important that we get it right. Unfortunately, the member opposite was doing something else last week when we had this workshop. Perhaps he will be able to attend future ones. I can certainly send him the schedule, so he can schedule it in there — perhaps have some of his staff attend. Again, thanking the Member for Mayo-Tatchun for attending that public event and learning about this project — actually going out there and listening to the consultants for what this project is all about.

When it comes to the costs of this project, we will have a business case by the end of 2015, which will identify the costs and then the member opposite can criticize at that time.

Mr. Silver:   The minister can call it criticism if he wants. I’m asking a question and I’m not going to apologize for doing my job.

We know that the previous minister spent years signing contracts to have experts look at the best way to privatize our energy future and that process alone, set us back by several years.

We also know that after 12 years in office, the Yukon Party government is only now starting to address a major expansion in our hydro capacity. We also know that increased power demands will be met for years to come by LNG shipped from B.C. instead of the new hydro capacity because of lack of planning.

Now, better late than ever, this government is talking about new hydro. It is obvious, though, that with less than two years left in the mandate, that’s a big decision and it’s going to be left for the next election.

In referencing the workplan, it also spoke about possibly connecting a grid to B.C. Is a grid to B.C. being considered as well?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    As I and the Member for Mayo-Tatchun know, part of this project includes a transmission viability study. Of course we are looking at connections for the grid. We have to make sure that we insulate the ratepayers from any adverse effects, and connecting the grid is something that we are, of course, looking at.

When it comes to this project, as I and the Member for Mayo-Tatchun know, there will be a business case developed by the end of next year. It will have one to three potential projects identified that we will be able to move ahead with, and there will be costs associated with that.

I have said a number of times on the floor of this House that this project is of national significance, and we will be looking to our federal partners. Of course, there will be opportunities for First Nations to invest in this as well. It is something that we are incredibly proud of, and I am incredibly proud of the work that the Yukon Development Corporation has undertaken to develop this workplan and leading into the business case that we anticipate getting at the end of 2015.