Canada

Stop signs for a power trip

Paul Koring September 17 1979
Canada

Stop signs for a power trip

Paul Koring September 17 1979

Stop signs for a power trip

There is little light to relieve the darkness of a Yukon winter. That’s because the Yukon’s 20 small hydro and diesel power plants are capable of producing only 86 megawatts of electric power and the territory’s 21,600 residents strain that capacity to the limit during the winter’s long, cold months. Despite that shortage of power, a proposal by the Northern Canada Power Commission (NCPC) to build a major hydro dam on the Yukon River is getting a chilly reception from Indian organizations and environmentalists alike. The plan calls for a hydro project that would pour out 350 megawatts—four times the power now available — but would cause the flooding of the small area of Eagle’s Nest Bluff on the gold rush trail of 1898.

Mining, the Yukon's top industry, needs more power before any of several potential new pits can go into production. Cyprus Anvil’s huge, open-pit lead-zinc mine already consumes one-third of the available electricity on the main power grid and the company says it would nearly double its

draw if the power were available. But despite the demands of the mining companies, and a commitment from Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd. to consider using hydroelectric power to run compressor stations on its northern natural gas line, the Yukon Conservation Society is questioning the Eagle’s Nest Bluff flood site and calling for an examination of coal-fired thermal generators, although the Yukon’s enormous and renewable hydro potential remains almost virtually untapped.

The Council for Yukon Indians also opposes the project, demanding that it and all other developments in the territory wait until land claims are settled—negotiations that have sputtered along for seven years. The Indians are also angry because a dam at Eagle’s Nest Bluff would flood the traditional, but now abandoned, village of Little Salmon. The last NCPC dam, on the Aishihik River, also flooded land used by the Indians and promised compensation has not yet been paid.

Even without a battle from the dam’s opponents, developers will have to wait until the late 1980s before the first phase of an Eagle’s Nest Bluff project could be in service, NCPC estimates that it could take that long to design and build the project once it has been approved Paul Koring