Related Posts for Alaska – Interior

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

It’s true. Read this report from Rich Seifert of the University of Alaska’s Cooperative Extension Service on three beautiful and fascinating homes in Fairbanks that are using masonry stoves, extra insulation, passive design and more techniques to reduce their energy use. There’s lots to read here and great pictures.

Download the report here (.pdf)

There may be few better places to test energy-efficient home building than in Anaktuvuk Pass, which lies above the Arctic Circle and is known for its cold temperatures. The average temperature in January  is minus 14 degrees. Now more villages may be following Anaktuvuk’s lead, according to this story by Alex Demarban of Alaska Newspapers which talks about a super efficient home recently built in Anaktuvuk and and plans for an upcoming housing design forum in Point Lay that will be hosted by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. Read more

ADN reporter Kyle Hopkins also wrote about problems with housing in Quinhagak on his The Village blog with this link to some pictures of the Anaktuvuk home.

Vermont Public Radio talked with Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Alaska Village Electric Cooperative President Meera Kohler about a trip this week to tour wind projects at Gambell and Unalakleet. REAP Executive Director Chris Rose also toured the sites. In the public radio interview, Kohler notes the high cost of energy in Alaska is one of the driving forces behind wind projects here.

Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Alaska Lt. Gov Craig Campbell look at wind turbines in Gambell

Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Alaska Lt. Gov Craig Campbell tour wind turbines in Gambell

Northern Power Systems wind turbines under assembly in Unalakleet

Northern Power Systems wind turbines under assembly in Unalakleet

Consumers in the villages are paying, on average, 62 cents per kilowatt hour – that’s roughly 6 times what Vermonters pay. She says the turbines can cut these costs by at least 20%. “Our villages are very, very small – the average population is about 400 – and they’re completely reliant on diesel for electrical generation. So as a result, if you can imagine when the cost of diesel spiked the cost of electricity went right along with it…so it’s really a huge economic burden to be reliant upon diesel.”

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Alaska Dispatch’s Rena Delbridge and the Rutland Herald in Vermont also carried reports on the trip.

The Denali Education Center unveiled its new solar water heating system this week. The system includes 1,300 square feet of flat-panel thermal collectors and is expected to save up to $9,000 a year in energy costs. Congrats to REAP members ABS Alaskan Inc., which did the design and installation, and to Golden Valley Electric Association which owns the system. The Anchorage Daily News and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner were among those carrying stories on the new system. The Denali Education Center also has information about the project on its website.

Alaska’s six Railbelt utilities are tapping into renewable resources — but a lot of energy is still going to waste because of duplicated services and facilities.  So the utilities companies are developing a plan to connect their resources, from Homer to Fairbanks.

The idea is to save energy by sharing energy resources — so Alaska’s utility services could all hook into the same grid. But the six utilities — Municipal Light & Power, Chugach Electric, Golden Valley Electric, Matanuska Electric, Seward and Homer Electric — have six different ideas on how to roll together.

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Alaska’s largest conservation coalition is now on record supporting a hydro project and a gasline routing option through Denali National Park. “This is all part of recognizing how we get to 50% renewable energy by 2025 and relying on natural gas as the ‘bridge’ fuel”, notes Kate Troll, Executive Director of Alaska Conservation Alliance (ACA).

Continue reading ‘Conservation Groups Walking the Talk on Energy’