Yukon aims to sell renewable power to Skagway cruise ships

A Disney cruise ship tied up at Skagway’s ore dock. (Emily Files)

Skagway played host to about 450 cruise ships last season. The ships burn diesel while in port because the small town can’t generate enough electricity to connect them to shoreside power. In fact, one cruise ship uses more electricity than both Skagway and neighboring Haines combined.

But the Yukon Territory produces a lot of renewable energy. And they have a surplus in the summer months, when cruise ships are in port.

Yukon Energy rolled out a 10-year plan for renewable electricity in the territory this January. One of its goals is to sell excess renewable energy to green up cruise ships in Alaska ports. The utility plans to expand its southern infrastructure to store a projected surplus of summer power. President Andrew Hall said that opens up an international clean energy possibility.

“Given that we were building, or have plans to build out, that transmission infrastructure, we started thinking about the business opportunity to sell more renewable energy down to Skagway and help with potentially electrifying cruise ships for the shoreside power,” he said.

It could be a win-win. The Yukon territory could turn a profit on their surplus, cruise ships could green up their local image and Skagway might enjoy better air quality near the port.

The plan is still in its early stages, but Hall said his initial talks with cruise ship companies have been positive. The price of Yukon’s renewable energy will be competitive with what the cruise ships would otherwise spend on diesel.

But this plan hinges on infrastructure in remote and mountainous territory. And it doesn’t exist yet.

“Who would pay for that,” Hall asked.

“You know, I don’t think Yukon Energy wants to necessarily operate transmission in the United States. So we would be looking for the local utility you know, Alaska Power and Telephone to potentially play a role in that,” he said.

Darren Belisle manages Skagway’s AP&T office. He says shoreside power is something Skagway has considered before.

“It’s not just plugging in an extension cord,” he said. “It’s a pretty extensive process.”

He said it takes serious real estate for the transformers on shore. Belisle estimates the cost of transmission lines from Yukon to Skagway would cost about $100 million.

Hall, the Yukon Energy president, said he expects to know whether the project is viable within the year.