Power from rain: Sitka expands dam to wean itself from diesel 

By Mary Catherine Martin | Capital City Weekly: Sitka is raising its bet on something it and other Southeast Alaska towns know well: water.

The city-owned electric company is raising Blue Lake Dam by 83 feet and adding three new turbines in a bid to keep its power local, clean and separate from the fluctuating cost of diesel. So far, that hydropower project appears to be on schedule.

Increases in some costs have been offset by decreases in others, project leaders say.

Though they’ve sought federal state, and other funding — everything including “a coin collection in the office,” utility director Christopher Brewton joked during a recent tour — the project is still $18.6 million short.

They met with the Alaska Energy Authority early last week to seek a loan; if they don’t receive it, that money will be raised through bonding, which will fund the project but will be more expensive for Sitka residents.

The visit went well and the loan is looking promising, said project engineer Dean Orbison.

Regardless of where the money comes from, raising the dam is a project Brewton and others say will pay for itself in the long run: Sitka’s diesel generators need 24,000 gallons of fuel each day. A hydroelectric turbine, in contrast, uses 387 million gallons of water, he said.

Though that sounds like a lot of water, it’s the equivalent of only a quarter-inch of rain.

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