Yukon Energy to improve communications, in case of another deep-freeze power outage

Dawson City, Yukon, on Dec. 23, when the temperature was around -41 C. The community was one of several in the Yukon that saw power outages during the cold snap. (Chris MacIntyre/CBC)

Yukon Energy held another briefing with officials on Wednesday morning, about a series of power outages during a December cold snap — and the focus was more on communications than the cause of the outages.

It follows a similar briefing in January, a month after a string of –40 C temperatures contributed to power outages in Dawson City, Pelly Crossing, and Whitehorse.

At the time, Andrew Hall, CEO of Yukon Energy, was joined by representatives from the City of Whitehorse, ATCO Electric and the Yukon’s Emergency Measures Organization (EMO).

On Wednesday, Hall spoke again alongside representatives from the same organizations in a briefing at Whitehorse city hall. There was no new information presented.

They reiterated the point that communication needs to be quicker when outages occur during a deep freeze.

“The old protocol that we were operating under is we would only inform [Yukon Emergency Measures Organization] after four hours, and that’s based on the rates at which a typical home will start cooling down,” said Andrew Hall, CEO of Yukon Energy.

“One of the learnings is that it’s not appropriate for us to wait that long even though, technically, it would be correct … after a couple hours, we’ll at least inform them that there’s an outage.”

‘After a couple hours, we’ll at least inform [emergency officials] that there’s an outage,’ said Yukon Energy CEO Andrew Hall, seen here in 2017. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
The company has said that equipment failure was to blame for the outages in Pelly and Dawson, while a power surge was the reason for failures in Whitehorse.

Hall says those surges are partly due to increased construction in Whitehorse. It stresses the system. He says Yukon Energy and ATCO need to monitor how much construction is happening in the city each year.

To that end, the utilities companies will meet annually with the city to look at plans. That will allow the companies to estimate how the load may change through the year, so they can better anticipate energy needs during a cold snap.

Another change is that EMO will serve as the single point of contact between communities, and ATCO Electric and Yukon Energy, says Jason Everett, Whitehorse Fire Chief.

Cutting out multiple contacts will make the process more efficient. That way, EMO can contact emergency management teams in communities if they need to be activated.

In December, EMO was ready to support, but was not called on to provide that support because the outages were short-lived.

“A lot of times these things happen after hours, so the offices are running at minimal levels,” says Greg Blackjack, director of EMO. “Cutting down the number of people that our utility partners have to update is just one way we can free them up to to get their main job done.”

Hall says there’s no way to anticipate whether outages will be more or less common in the coming winters. He says the goal is to be prepared for when they do happen.

Amy Kenny

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