Responding to Concerns About the Aishihik Relicensing

News, Energy Supply, Regulatory, Reliability

Dec 04, 2018  Comment

You may have heard news stories about concerns by the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations about the process to relicense the Aishihik hydro facility. We feel we owe it to Yukoners to explain the situation from our point of view.

Aishihik hydro is a key power plant in Yukon’s renewable energy system. Twenty-five percent of the hydro produced by Yukon Energy comes from the Aishihik plant. In winter, as much as 50 percent of our renewable energy comes from Aishihik.

The Aishihik facility reduces our reliance on diesel and LNG, which decreases GHG emissions and fuel costs.

About 2 ½ years ago, CAFN and Yukon Energy entered into a protocol agreement to cooperatively plan for the relicensing of the Aishihik power plant. The license expires at the end of next year.

Working together, we established:

  • A steering committee (one member each from CAFN and Yukon Energy) to oversee the work and provide high level guidance.
  • An advisory committee of CAFN, Yukon Energy, various government departments and non-governmental organizations. It made recommendations on interests, values, and technical matters.
  • A Champagne and Aishihik Community Advisory Committee that met frequently to provide information to the project and engage with CAFN citizens.

We also provided funding to CAFN for a traditional knowledge project that included archival and oral history research, as well as map biographies and oral history interviews.

CAFN and Yukon Energy jointly selected a consulting team to conduct a comprehensive series of field studies, research, and analysis over several years regarding the environment and people in the Aishihik area. This information was considered alongside other monitoring and research information that has been collected in the project area over the last 40 years. 

CAFN citizens participated directly in most of the field studies and research.

Yukon Energy has contributed more than $600,000 to CAFN over the last 2.5 years on this project.

We have worked with CAFN in good faith in an attempt to agree on a proposal that balances energy needs with preserving the long-term health and well-being of the land, water, and people.

We listened to their concerns, and this has shaped what we plan to include in a project proposal to YESAB.

For instance, we have agreed on monitoring and adaptive management to reduce winter flooding and erosion downstream from the Aishihik plant.

Another change that both parties agreed to is to remove aesthetic flows at Otter Falls, something that is not expected to have any adverse effects on fish.

We have been working together on monitoring of fish and wildlife at Aishihik Lake.

What we have not been able to agree on is the operating range of the lake.

Yukon Energy and CAFN held a workshop in early September where we had agreed we would discuss a variety of options for the operating range of Aishihik Lake. However at that workshop it became very clear to us that for CAFN, the only viable option was to return the lake to levels seen before the dam was built. We feel we cannot do that, for a number of reasons.

First of all, the science shows that the lake and the fish in the lake are healthy. There are no key drivers that we can point to in the scientific research that convince us we should significantly change the lake operation.

Also, if we did not have Aishihik and its water storage, we estimate that a new replacement generating plant would cost more than $100 million.

In addition, if we returned the lake to levels before the dam was built, YEC would need to burn more than $10 million/year in LNG and diesel in the short term, in order to make up for the lost energy. This would emit an additional 33 kilotons of GHGs annually relative to our current emissions. Note that currently, our entire operation only creates 5 kilotons of GHGs each year.

We must take the interests of all our ratepayers and Yukoners into consideration in making this decision.

Since our water use license expires at the end of next year, and since we can’t operate our Aishihik plant without a new license, time is of the essence. We are already cutting it very close in terms of being able to get through both the YESAA and the Yukon Water Board processes.

For all these reasons, we have decided we must move forward on our own with a YESAA proposal late this year or early next.

We want to continue working with CAFN, but we simply can’t agree to returning the lake to natural levels.

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