A Tour of Yukon Energy’s Whitehorse Power Plants

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to notice a comment on Yukon Energy’s Facebook page that they were going to do a tour of their power production plants (both hydroelectric and diesel) the following day, and I popped a note off to them to put me on the list. Although I’ve been on the tour before, I find the place fascinating.

The tour met at the Millennium Trail parking lot in Riverdale just before 10:00 am on a bitterly cold morning. The walk across the bridge with a stiff wind blowing down the Yukon River was “invigorating”! 🙂
Yukon Energy's hydroelectric power plant
The hydroelectric turbines are in the yellow building, the diesel generators in the blue building. There are 3 hydroelectric plants in the Yukon – this one on the Yukon River, one located at Aishihik Lake to the west, and one in Mayo in the central Yukon. Together, the facilities have the ability to generate 92 megawatts (92 million watts) of power.The diesel generators are primarily used in the winter when much of the Yukon River is frozen and so not available for power production.
The Millennium Trail Bridge in Whitehorse, Yukon
Travis Ritchie, Yukon Energy’s Manager of Environment, Assessment, and Licencing, started the tour off with a half-hour explanation of the basics of power production in the Yukon, then we went up to the control centre, from where most of the facilities throughout the territory can be controlled.
Yukon Energy's hydro-electric power plant
This is a look at the controls for one of the facilities, the Lewes River Control Structure (a.k.a. the Lewes Dam or Marsh Lake Dam). Four of the gates used to control water flow between Marsh Lake and the Whitehorse Dam can be adjusted from here, the others are raised and lowered manually.
Yukon Energy's Whitehorse control centre
This is the view from the huge tinted windows in the control centre.
Yukon Energy's hydro-electric power plant
The first stop outside was the diesel generation plant, but we just went there to pick up hearing protection for everyone – we’d tour it later.
Yukon Energy's diesel power generation plant
The diesel generators at this end of the plant are the oldest, and are due to be replaced with more efficient units.
Yukon Energy's diesel power generation plant
The Whitehorse Rapids generating facility was built in 1958 at a cost of $7.2 million. It began with two hydro turbines, and in 1969 a third one was added. A fourth turbine was installed in 1985, doubling the capacity of the plant, which can now produce 40 megawatts of power in the summer and about 25 megawatts in the winter. Turbine/generator #3 was disassembled for a complete rebuild, which is done about every ten years.
Yukon Energy's hydro-electric power plant
The green unit is Turbine #2, with #3 at the far end of the powerhouse.
Yukon Energy's hydroelectric power plant
The scale of the equipment is quite impressive.
Yukon Energy's hydro-electric power plant
We then went back to the diesel generation plant. This is one of the old Mirrlee engines that’s slated to be replaced. A study is now being done to see whether converting the newer engines to run on natural gas, or replacing them with new units that run on natural gas, would be more cost-effective and environmentally friendly.
Yukon Energy's diesel power generation plant
This is the control centre all for the diesels.
Yukon Energy's diesel power generation plant

The tour took a little over an hour and a half. Travis Ritchie and the other staff members we talked with were excellent. Many members of our group were from some sort of environmental studies class and some great questions were asked – and were answered candidly. Every time I go on this tour I learn something new, and this one was particularly good. When you turn on a light switch at home, you may not care how it works, but learning about the entire process, including the decisions that are made constantly as water, weather and mechanical conditions change, is a worthwhile way to understand the big picture. Will power generation in the Yukon in the future remain as it is now, or will we move to wind, solar, new hydro locations or raised reservoirs, or some other form of enhancement? Right now there are many questions but no clear answers. Fascinating stuff…


A Tour of Yukon Energy’s Whitehorse Power Plants — 8 Comments

  1. I used to take tours in a couple of the TVA lakes but I don’t think they even offer them since 9/11. I forget which western US dam we were going to tour but they wouldn’t let you take a camera. We always over react to everything.

  2. Thanks, Neal. The “no-cameras” rule is so idiotic – anyone who’s there to steal “secrets” (ie a spy!) has an HD camera you can’t see!

  3. Murray the picture you’ve said is of a CAT Engine is infact an EMD, the CAT engine is one bay over and yellow in colour.

  4. An editing note: the diesel engine pictured under the title “We then went back to the diesel generation plant. This is one of the newest engines, a Caterpillar 3600…” is in fact one of the old Mirrlees that is slated to be replaced.

  5. Oh my mistake, Geoff is right, it is one of the Mirrless not and one of the EMDs, I obviously haven’t been in the plant in a while.

  6. Thanks, Geoff and Kitiria. That was one of those “doh!” mistakes – I did take a photo of one of the newer Cats and the maintenance poster on the wall. I’ve changed the caption.

  7. Thanks for taking your readers along on the tour, Murray! When I lived in Fort Liard, my house was across the street from the the little building that housed the hamlet’s diesel generator. I think that’s one of the best ways to be come aware of the power one uses. Every time I looked out the window, I was reminded of what was creating the energy for my light switches to be on, and every bit of it came from burning fossil fuels.