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By Mary Lochner | Anchorage Press— The Alaska Energy Authority is on its way to getting a license to build a hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River at Watana Creek, roughly 90 river miles northeast of Talkeetna.

Proponents of the dam say it will provide stable electricity rates for the Railbelt far into the future. Opponents charge it will cost too much in state money and impacts, and that there are better ways to provide for Alaska’s electricity needs.

Back in January 2009, then-Governor Sarah Palin was giving the Susitna-Watana dam its official raisons d’être. When she announced the state’s new goal of producing 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, there was no mention of a dam project. Environmentalists praised the decision. They might have been less enthusiastic if they’d realized the goal would be widely cited as justification for bringing a major hydroelectric project in Alaska.

“The only way we could ever achieve that goal would be to have big hydro,” said Joe Griffith, Matanuska Electric Association’s general manager and also president of a new cooperative of Railbelt electric utilities.

“Everyone was concerned we were going to run out of gas in Cook Inlet,” he said. “What better way to get something resolved than to start talking about renewable, because that was a vogue term and still is.”

Griffith said it was a goal advanced by the Palin administration, not the utility companies, but he thinks it was a sensible move.

Money had already been appropriated in the 2008 legislative session to study the feasibility of big hydro in Alaska. In 2009, state-hired consultants evaluated possible hydro projects at two sites: one on the Susitna River, and one at Chakachamna in the Cook Inlet.

The Susitna site won out, and initial cost-analysis and evaluation of the project, based on modeling from the 1980s when it was first explored by the state, was completed in November 2009.

In the same month, the Alaska Energy Authority released its draft Railbelt Regional Integrated Resources Plan, a guiding document for development of the electrical power system in the Railbelt. It included construction of a major hydro project.

But getting half the state’s electricity from renewables wasn’t the legally-adopted state energy policy until June 16, 2010, when Gov. Sean Parnell signed House Bill 306. A group of citizens, some representing renewable energy groups, contributed to the final version that passed in the State house and senate and was signed by Parnell. The bill’s language doesn’t explicitly call for the major hydroelectric project that would likely be necessary in order to achieve its energy policy goals.

Chris Rose, who was on the citizens’ group that worked on the bill, said he remembers discussion about whether or not hydro counts as renewable (it doesn’t in most states). But, he said, he doesn’t remember anyone talking about a major hydro project as a way to achieve the bill’s renewable energy goals.

“I would not say it was ever discussed,” said Rose, who is Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. “I don’t think it was what anyone contemplated, was the only way to get the 50 percent was a dam.”

But the policy is cited by the Alaska Energy Authority as the reason building the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam not only desirable for the state, but also necessary. AEA’s webpage on big hydro in the Railbelt states” “The only way to achieve the new goal of deriving 50 percent of our electricity from renewable and alternative sources is for a new, large hydroelectric project to be built in the Railbelt region.”

The state agency met in April 2011 with the Federal Regulatory Commission, the federal agency in charge of licensing the dam, to discuss moving the project forward. By July 14, 2011, Governor Parnell had signed Senate Bill 42, authorizing the state to pursue and construct the dam. In Dec. 2011, AEA filed its pre-application with FERC, putting the project officially in the pre-licensing process.

Wayne Dyok, project manager for Susitna-Watana, said his team plans to apply for the dam’s license with FERC in September 2015. Construction, once it begins, is expected to take about seven years, he said. Read more

By Joe Viechnicki of KFSK Radio:  PETERSBURG, AK. The agency that sells hydro-electric power to the Southeast communities of Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg is going to look into the possibility of raising one of its hydro dams. The Southeast Alaska Power Agency is trying to make up for a shortage of cheap hydro electricity from an increasing wintertime demand. SEAPA officials say adding new hydro plants to the southern Southeast power grid may not be answer. The SEAPA board met in Petersburg this month and voted to investigate the potential for raising the dam at Swan Lake near Ketchikan, and will hold off on applying for a new project near Wrangell.
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By Staff Reports of Fairbanks Daily News Miner
FAIRBANKS — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that would clear the way for a land exchange between the National Park Service and Doyon, Limited so the Fairbanks-based regional Native corporation can build a small hydroelectric plant to help power a backcountry lodge it owns in Denali National Park and Preserve.

The Kantishna Hills Renewable Energy Act of 2011 would authorize the secretary of the interior to issue permits for a hydroelectric project at the Kantishna Roadhouse, located at the end of the 92-mile Denali Park Road. The legislation would facilitate a 10-acre land exchange between the National Park Service and Doyon.

Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski introduced the same bill in the Senate more than a year ago. Rep. Don Young introduced the bill in the House of Representatives Monday, and it passed by a voice vote.

Doyon is proposing to build the hydro project on Eureka Creek, a small fishless creek near the roadhouse in the non-wilderness section of the 6 million-acre park. The project would include a 50-watt power plant, a small impoundment dam and a small pipeline to carry water.

Doyon currently uses a diesel generator to power the roadhouse, burning several thousand gallons of diesel each year for electricity at the lodge during the tourist season. The hydroelectric plant is expected to cut the amount of fuel Doyon uses to power the lodge almost in half.

“This is a win-win piece of legislation,” Young said. “Not only does my bill lower fossil fuel use in Denali, but it will also lower costs for lodge operators and visitors. Alaska has far too many resources to be burning diesel for electricity especially in a place where hydroelectricity can be developed.”

The power plant is expected to generate 40 to 50 kilowatts per hour.

Similar hydroelectric power plants are at the Eielson Visitor Center and Camp Denali, another backcountry lodge about 10 miles from the Kantishna Roadhouse.

Read more

Published in the Cordova Times By Jennifer Gibbins: Once diverted from Humpback Creek, water flows through a massive penstock running parallel to the creek before crossing over it, 100 feet above the canyon floor. (Alaska Newspapers, Jennifer Gibbins)

Water flows from the tailrace into the plant where three turbines convert the energy to electricity. Close to 80 percent of Cordova’s energy will be generated by hydro once Humpback Creek comes online later this month. (Alaska Newspapers, Jennifer Gibbins)

Cordova Electric Cooperative (CEC) is in the final countdown to bringing the Humpback Creek hydro facility back online this month after five years and a $21 million rebuild. Originally built in 1909, and again in 1991, the facility was wiped out following the second of two major floods in 2006 that ripped out high- and low-voltage lines and equipment, bridge abutments, stream banks and rip-rap, and even compromised the concrete foundation underneath the station’s plant.

The flood waters floated a 10,000 pound transformer out of the plant and down river. A 500-pound transformer was washed half a mile out into the ocean and discovered weeks later during a minus 2-foot tide. The devastation not only disabled the plant, it demoralized CEC staff who had just completed significant maintenance work on the existing 1991 facility.

“Humpback Creek hydro is vitally important to Cordova’s energy security,” said Clay Koplin, CEC chief executive officer. “This is energy that is generated in Cordova and is not subject to market fluctuations and barge logistics. We have been absolutely committed to a high-quality rebuild that would provide electric service to our grand children, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.” Read more

From the Petroleum News: Parallel versions of Gov. Sean Parnell’s bill to give the Alaska Energy Authority the statutory authority to progress a plan to build a major hydropower system on the Susitna River have moved to the House and Senate Finance committees, having been reviewed by the House Special Committee on Energy and the Senate Resources Committee.

The state administration sees the development of a major Alaska hydropower system as a key requirement for achieving a target set by the state Legislature in 2010, to have half of the state’s power generated from renewable energy sources by 2025. And in November AEA recommended the construction of a large hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River, in remote territory on the south side of the Alaska Range, about 184 river miles upstream of the river’s mouth, to achieve the hydropower objective. As currently envisaged, the Susitna project would meet about half of the total Railbelt power demand.

With an AEA-estimated cost of about $4.5 billion and with a long project timeframe, the Susitna Dam, a somewhat scaled down version of a Susitna hydropower concept that was investigated in the 1980s, would require financial assistance from the state for its construction. And AEA is taking a lead in moving the project forward.

The agency has started conducting a gap analysis, assessing where the environmental investigations done in the 1980s Susitna hydropower studies need updating, and has also been conducting a series of open house meetings in Alaska communities, to enable the public to learn more about the project. Read more

From HydroWorld.com: Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced bipartisan legislation to accelerate the deployment of hydroelectric power projects across the country.

The Hydropower Improvement Act has nine original co-sponsors, including Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D), making hydropower a major area of consensus on energy in the 112th Congress, the National Hydropower Association reported.

“It is now all too clear that America needs a consensus policy on energy that can help keep prices low, create jobs and ensure a safe supply of power,” Murkowski said. “Clean, safe and domestic hydropower can help us reach our shared clean energy goals. Our bill achieves common sense regulatory reform, spurs economic growth and takes advantage of hydropower’s position as the country’s leading source of clean, renewable energy.”

The National Hydropower Association said it applauds each original co-sponsor for their early support of this job-creating clean energy bill. In addition to Senators Murkowski, Bingaman and Cantwell, the list of co-sponsors includes: Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Patty Murray, D-Wash., James Risch, R-Idaho, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Senator Murkowski will be a special keynote guest speaker at the upcoming 2011 NHA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The three-day event is planned for April 4-6 at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

The Hydropower Improvement Act, NHA said, sets a dynamic hydropower agenda for the nation.

The bill will advance project deployment (from conduit and small hydro to non-powered dams to pumped storage) by requiring better interagency coordination; through funding of competitive grants for increased production; and with continued support for research and development activities.

“Hydropower has more multi-region and bipartisan support than any other clean energy technology. It is critical to our clean energy future that this legislation is passed as soon as possible,” said National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci. “Hydropower is already responsible for nearly seven percent of total U.S. electricity generation and two-thirds of our renewable electricity. This bill recognizes the vital role of hydropower as an affordable, reliable, available and sustainable domestic energy source.”

In addition to growing the domestic supply of clean energy, local job creation is a primary focus of the legislation. Already responsible for over 300,000 jobs, a recent study by Navigant Consulting, Inc. has shown that with the right policies, hydropower could create over 1.4 million cumulative direct, indirect and induced jobs by 2025.

“The Hydropower Improvement Act will bolster the positive economic and job creation benefits of hydropower projects, supply chain companies and low-cost hydroelectricity in all fifty states,” said NHA President Andrew Munro, also director of external affairs for Washington State’s Grant County PUD. “The U.S. hydropower industry supports President Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s electricity with clean energy sources by 2035. Hydropower will play a critical role in reaching that goal and this bill will help America get there sooner.”

Key provisions: Hydropower Improvement Act

• Grant Program: Directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a competitive grants program to support efficiency improvements or capacity additions at existing hydropower facilities; adding generation to non-powered dams; addressing aging infrastructure; conduit projects; environmental studies; and environmental mitigation measures.

• Non-powered Dams and Pumped Storage: Directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to explore a potential two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.

• Conduit and Small Hydro: Allows for conduit projects on federal lands and directs FERC and other federal agencies to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better coordinate reviews of these projects. Requires regional workshops to reduce barriers and investigate improvements to the regulatory process for small hydro and conduit projects.

• Federal Hydropower Development: Requires the Departments of Energy and Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers to report to Congress on the implementation of the March 24, 2010, MOU on increasing federal hydropower development. Also directs FERC and the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) to complete a new MOU to improve the coordination and timeliness of non-federal hydropower development at Bureau projects.

• R&D Program: Requires DOE to develop and implement a plan to increase the nation’s use of hydropower through research, development and demonstration initiatives.

• Studies: Directs DOE to study pumped storage project opportunities on federal and non-federal lands near existing or potential sites of intermittent renewable resource development, and a Department study of hydropower potential from existing conduits. Directs the Bureau of Reclamation to study barriers to non-federal development at Bureau projects.

For more hydropower news and information, click here

By Christopher Eshleman of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: The state would empty its Railbelt Energy Fund to prepare for a dam on the Susitna River.

Gov. Sean Parnell last month rolled out a $65.7 million line item for the project, part of his annual budget proposal. He said it would aid planning, design and permitting. That figure is precisely the amount sitting in the special energy fund (as of Dec. 1). Karen Rehfeld, who directs the state’s budget office, confirmed Thursday that it’s no coincidence — the state would use the energy fund’s balance for the Susitna project.

The fund basically amounts to space set aside within the state’s larger general fund, tagged solely for energy projects along the “railbelt” region — the road system from Fairbanks to Homer and including Anchorage. The Legislature created the fund in the 1980s and holds the strings. It has subsidized projects including the “northern intertie” transmission line between Fairbanks and Healy, a project Golden Valley Electric Association has said saves about $2 million a year because less power is lost in transmission.

But utilities have also jostled over allowances from the fund for sometimes-competing projects. Parnell’s Susitna proposal coincides with an announced joint venture by five of the six railbelt utilities including Golden Valley Electric. Directors have said the venture, dubbed ARCTEC, would let them finance larger projects than could be done individually.

Parnell said in Anchorage last month his Susitna plan, barring objection by the Legislature, would help the state “move aggressively to tap the vast energy potential of our waters and other renewables” and, in the process, lower long-term energy costs. He also proposed funding for renewable energy grants, a new Southeast Alaska-specific energy fund, and money for energy-efficiency programs.
See original story here

By Tim Mowry of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Doyon Ltd. wants to build a micro-hydroelectric project inside Denali National Park and Preserve to power Kantishna Roadhouse, a backcountry lodge the Fairbanks Native corporation owns 100 miles inside the park.
The National Park Service supports the project, and Alaska’s two U.S. senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, introduced legislation last month, the Kantishna Hills Renewable Energy Act of 2010, that would direct the park service to issue a special-use permit to speed construction of the project and authorizes a 10-acre land exchange between Doyon and the NPS.
Doyon is proposing to build the hydro project on Eureka Creek, a small fishless creek near the roadhouse in the non-wilderness section of the 6 million-acre park. The project would include a 50-kilowatt power plant, a small impoundment dam and a small pipeline to carry water. Doyon currently uses a diesel generator to power the roadhouse. Read more

By Eric Lidji, Petroleum News: The profile of Chakachamna Lake hydropower, a project proposed for the west side of Cook Inlet, has risen a lot in the last two months. In early December, a study of Railbelt energy needs placed Chakachamna ahead of a much larger and more widely discussed hydropower project on the Susitna River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is deciding whether to extend the permit that lets TDX Power, the sponsor of the Chakachamna project, study the project.Now, TDX hopes those developments will bolster its case before the state Legislature. The company wants $5 million in state funds to help pay for fieldwork this summer. Read more

This press release was sent out by Sen. Mark Begich’s office today. A .pdf copy of the bill is included at the end of this post. The bill they’ve introduced would directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to implement a research program designed to collect, monitor, and distribute environmental data to assist development of renewable energy, particularly related to ocean energy. Examples of this would be tidal data for use in choosing locations for wave energy infrastructure or time series wind data for siting wind turbines. The bill would authorize $100 million for program implementation, with up to half this amount eligible to states and educational institutions to carry out renewable energy environmental research.

Legislation to Spur Green Technology Innovation, Create Jobs

Saying it would help reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and create jobs and new technology that will benefit Alaska, U. S. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) today introduced the Renewable Energy Environmental Research Act of 2009.

“Renewable energy has tremendous potential in Alaska,” Sen. Begich said. “In addition to creating jobs, this bill fills a gap in existing climate-energy legislation, helps speed up a transition to domestic low-carbon energy, and encourages scientific advancement.” Continue reading ‘Begich, Snowe Bill would authorize up to $100M for Renewable Energy Research’

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