Yukon premier calls for 'generational investment' in power-grid connection

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai, left, and British Columbia Premier David Eby during a media availability at the 2024 Western Premiers’ Conference in Whitehorse on Monday. (Crystal Schick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai, left, and British Columbia Premier David Eby during a media availability at the 2024 Western Premiers’ Conference in Whitehorse on Monday. (Crystal Schick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai is calling on the federal government to offer up $60 million to help connect the territory to the continental energy grid.

"It's a generational investment," Pillai said on Monday in Whitehorse, at the close of the annual meeting of western premiers.

"We need to have a long-term source of energy. And I think as there's growth in population, as we see defence spending get very significant, we're going to need connection to the North American grid."

Pillai said Yukon and B.C. are working together on the initiative, which would see Yukon's power grid connected to B.C.'s.

Currently, Yukon's grid is not connected to the rest of North America. Most of the territory's electricity is generated by hydroelectric plants, and supplemented by diesel and liquefied natural gas. The system is under increasing pressure to meet the territory's steadily growing demand for power.

Pillai said his government has so far invested $1 million this year in the grid-tie project.

"And that's really building out the framework of looking at the business model, looking at the route, bringing the First Nation governments together, many of them very interested in being in an ownership position on the project," Pillai said.

B.C. Premier David Eby, also speaking at the close of the premiers' conference in Whitehorse, said there have been a lot of discussions between his province and the Yukon about electricity distribution, "particularly zero-emission electricity."

"We all, I think, around the table agreed that electricity is going to be a major driver for most of our economies going forward," he said.

"As much electricity as we can generate, there's economic opportunity for."

Eby said B.C.'s energy sector has typically been built to respond to existing demand. He said the province is now aiming to "turn that around," and build up the sector "to create economic opportunities."

That means working with the province's neighbours, he said.

"If Alberta has need, if Yukon has need, and we can support, we want to do that because it means jobs for British Columbians. That means we're growing the regional economy as well, and we all benefit from that."

Housing and infrastructure

The two-day conference also saw the premiers of Yukon, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the N.W.T., and Nunavut talk about housing, infrastructure, Arctic security, and disaster preparedness and response.

A statement from the premiers said western provinces and territories are working on unique housing challenges.

"While premiers acknowledge the efforts being made at the federal level, greater collaboration is required," the statement says.

Northwest Territories Premier R.J Simpson, from left, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai, British Columbia Premier David Eby, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok chat at the conclusion of a media availability at the 2024 Western Premiers’ Conference in Whitehorse, Monday, June 10, 2024.

Northwest Territories Premier R.J Simpson, from left, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai, British Columbia Premier David Eby, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok chat at the conclusion of a media availability at the 2024 Western Premiers’ Conference in Whitehorse on Monday. (Crystal Schick/The Canadian Press)

"Premiers discussed recent federal policy announcements and noted that substantial engagement from the federal government is needed to ensure new funding complements ongoing investments being made by provinces and territories," the premiers said, referring to the need to collaborate on more housing.

The statement says the premiers are disappointed that this year's federal budget did not include a successor to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

"Premiers reiterated the need for flexible, predictable, and long-term federal infrastructure funding that is delivered on a base-plus per capita basis," it says.

The statement said more needs to be done to harness Western Canada's energy resources, including oil and gas, liquefied natural gas, uranium and hydroelectricity, as well as in emerging opportunities such as hydrogen, biofuels, small modular nuclear reactors and critical minerals.

Next year's meeting of the western premiers is slated to take place in the Northwest Territories.