Study calls Skagway-Yukon electrical link financially feasible

Cheap Yukon hydroelectricity could power cruise ships in Skagway by next decade, a newly released report states.

 

The report, commissioned by the Alaska Energy Authority and the Yukon Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, says a power line between Skagway and Whitehorse is both technically and financially feasible.

This long extension cord would cost between $109 million and $123 million to construct and is envisioned as the backbone of an “Alaska-Yukon economic development corridor” that also includes a fiber-optic telecommunications cable and the West Creek hydroelectric project, a 25 megawatt dam envisioned for a location near Dyea.

Gene Therriault, energy policy and outreach director for the Alaska Energy Authority, said Alaska and the Yukon began studying the intertie proposal during the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell, who entered into an agreement with the Yukon premier. Each side contributed about $109,000 U.S. dollars for a study to investigate the possibility of a power line paralleling the Klondike Highway. The result was completed this year.

If Skagway proceeds with a long-planned harbor electrification project, cruise ships at dock in the tourist-friendly city would be able to tie in to city power instead of burning fuel to keep their engines running. That would improve air quality and may make Skagway a more attractive cruise destination, the report states.

The power would come from the Yukon, whose riverside hydroelectric plants produce more electricity than the province needs in the summer.

“The whole geographic area could benefit,” Therriault said.

Robert Grimm is president of Alaska Power Company, a subsidiary of Alaska Power and Telephone, which provides electricity in Skagway.

He was traveling Monday but said in a brief conversation that “We’re supportive of anything that makes sense.”

Whether the link between Whitehorse and Skagway does that isn’t yet clear, he said.

Skagway still needs to electrify its cruise ship docks, and the cruise lines would have to be willing to buy power instead of generate it aboard ship.

If that happens, according to the study, the Skagway-Yukon line would make $650,000 in “revenue” per year. The revenue figure was calculated using a transmission tariff that could be charged between Yukon generators and the feasible sale price at Skagway.

Therriault said the study was designed to be handed off, a way of encouraging construction by private enterprise, a municipality or a third party. “Basically, the information will now be shared,” he said. “It’s not just governments thinking they have to build infrastructure out of pocket.”

In the longer term, the Yukon-Skagway link may become even more valuable. The Municipality of Skagway and Alaska Power Company are pursuing the construction of West Creek, a dam west of the Taiya River. While this project faces huge permitting hurdles before construction, its capacity and design are large enough that it could send electricity north to the Yukon during months when the Yukon’s hydroelectric plants freeze.

In addition, AP&T is considering construction of a fiber-optic telecommunications cable from Skagway to Whitehorse along the Klondike Highway. The first phase of that project, a cable from Juneau to Skagway, is still on schedule, Grimm said, and cable-laying is expected “in the September-October timeframe.”

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