‘We need to maintain reliability’:Yukon Energy about microgeneration project pause

Yukon Energy’s hydroelectric dam in Whitehorse. (Steve Hossack / CBC)

Yukon gov’t not accepting new applications to renewable energy rebate program for now

Yukon Energy says it’s all for adding more solar power into the territory’s power grid — but not if it destabilizes the system and increases the risk of outages.

The utility recently asked the territorial government to put a pause on a rebate program for people who install renewable energy systems, such as solar, at home and then feed their excess power into the grid.

The government agreed, and is no longer accepting new applications to its microgeneration program until at least next spring while a study is done. Microgeneration projects that have already been approved or built are not affected.

Paul Murchison, vice president of engineering and capital projects for Yukon Energy, says the concern is keeping the power grid stable during the summer months when solar generation is at its peak, but demand for power is not.

“We’re excited to see people’s enthusiasm,” said Murchison, referring to the number of Yukoners who have already installed solar panels at home and applied to the microgeneration program.

“That’s great, but what we’ve seen is stability issues on our grid because of this quick adoption and increased penetration of solar on our grid,” he said.

Murchison said solar generation in the summer can fluctuate wildly, depending on cloud cover. That means Yukon Energy’s hydro or diesel generators must be able to kick in quickly when solar energy suddenly drops off.

“So those units have to speed up and slow down. But what we started to see with sort of that stability issue, is the ability for them to quickly respond,” Murchison said.

“So that’s why we did ask the Yukon government to pause the program. We need to make sure we maintain reliability for our customers.”

Murchison said the system has protection controls built into it. That means any serious instability can trip the system, resulting in power outages.

“The system can trip to prevent damage, not only to people’s equipment in their homes but to the electrical equipment that we have in our system,” he said.

Battery storage part of the solution

Murchison said a new grid-scale battery storage system — currently under construction — will help provide more stability to the system, but he said that’s only part of the solution.

The grid-scale battery — estimated to cost $35 million — is mostly aimed at reducing the need for diesel generation during periods of peak power demand in the coldest, darkest months of winter.

Yukon is unique compared to many other places where microgeneration projects are connected to the grid, Murchison says. That’s because the amount of solar energy, and the demand for power, varies so widely between summer and winter.

Solar panels at Yukon University in 2016. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yukon’s Energy Minister John Streicker says that longer-term seasonal storage of power is like the “Holy Grail” for the territory. That would allow the territory to take full advantage of its solar energy.

“Solar is great, but it’s mostly in the summer. And that’s when we have a lot of hydro, excess hydro,” Streicker said.

“Someday we’re going to crack that nut around seasonal storage and then solar becomes a game-changer for the Yukon.”

In the meantime, the energy minister says the upcoming study will help find some short-term solutions to ensure the stability of Yukon’s power grid while supporting microgeneration projects. The study is expected to be complete by May.

Vittoria Bellissmo, president of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, says the issues Yukon Energy is dealing with are not unique. But she says there are “lots and lots” of possible solutions out there.

For example, she suggests people could be encouraged through incentives to reduce their power consumption when there is cloud cover.

“Everyone everywhere is trying to figure out how to incorporate more variable resources like wind and solar into our grids, because they are the most affordable types of energy today — and we need as much as we can get,” she said.

With files from Mike Rudyk

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Yukon government under fire for pausing renewable energy rebate program, CBC News

Norway: Will the green transition be the new economic motor in the Arctic?, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden’s climate policies closer to reaching goals, Radio Sweden

CBC News

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