Harper touts hydro-electric upgrades on last day of northern tour

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was officially signing the paperwork Friday for Ottawa’s contribution to the $160 million upgrade to the Mayo B hydro-electric project in the Yukon.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper waits to speak at an announcement in Pangnirtung

MAYO, Yukon — Prime Minister Stephen Harper was officially signing the paperwork Friday for Ottawa’s contribution to the $160 million upgrade to the Mayo B hydro-electric project in the Yukon.

The project was given the green light earlier this year and was previously announced by the Conservative government three months ago.

Still, an elaborate photo-op was staged Friday involving Harper and Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie, who were expected to take a tour of the facility and take a helicopter ride over the mountainous, picturesque Stewart River.

Journalists, who’ve followed Harper on his five-day northern tour, were flown by a Canadian air force C-130 Hercules into the tiny community of 250 and were kept in the dark about the destination until the night before.

Critics have complained events in the three territories this week have been nothing more than repackaged announcements and possibly even a dry-run for a fall election.

New Democrat northern critic Dennis Bevington dismissed the tour as “hollow rhetoric.”

The federal contribution towards the two-stage expansion is $70 million — cash coming from the Conservative government’s $1 billion Green Infrastructure Fund.

Opposition parties have expressed concern that the territory may be digging itself a deep financial hole because it will have to come up with matching funds.

Once completed in 2013, the project is expected to reduce the Yukon’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent from current levels.

The territory was expecting to spend as much as $20 million a year on diesel fuel generators to power its electricity stations, dumping as much as 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

The prime minister said the project is a perfect example of how Canada has the potential of becoming a clean energy superpower.

“By investing in these upgrades to this hydro plant today, we are creating jobs, protecting the environment and ensuring a more reliable supply of electricity for the Yukon,” Harper said in a prepared statement.

The construction project will involve building a new powerhouse downstream from the existing facility, adding an extra 6 megawatts to the existing grid.

The second phase involves adding new transmission lines to the existing Carmacks-Stewart grid.

Preliminary site work is expected to get underway this year.

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