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AEA chooses Susitna Dam project; Parnell agrees

by Sue Deyoe ~ November 24th, 2010

The Alaska Energy Authority announced today  that they are supporting and recommending the lower Watana Dam on the Susitna River over the Chakachamna Project.  The Authority has been expected to come out with a decision for the past couple of weeks.  Governor Parnell has responded to the decision.

The Alaska Energy Authority has been studying two big hydro projects this year in order to get a handle on future railbelt energy.  Wednesday morning they announced that the Susitna Dam makes more sense than pursuing the Chakachamna project.

Soon after the decision was released, Governor Sean Parnell’s office released his statement in full support of the dam on the Susitna River.

The legislature provided funding to AEA for the preliminary planning, design, permitting and field work for the Susitna Dam, Cahkachamna, Glacier Fork and other hydro projects. The primary focus was on Susinta and Chakachamna.  The Chakachamna project is east of Lake Clark National Park near the Cook Inlet.  The Susitna Project is north of Devils Canyon and south of the Denali Highway.

AEA acting director Mike Harper says that the goal was to identify the project that has the best chance of being built. The Authority concluded that the Chakachamna Project has greater environmental impact because the project would require a cross basin water transfer.  The Susitna project, they say, would produce two to three times more energy at a lower per unit cost.  The Susitna project supposedly has fewer licensing and permitting issues.

The dam is expected to create a 39 mile long lake reservoir with a width of 2 miles.

In 2010 House Bill 306 directed the state to receive 50 percent of its electrical generation from renewable and alternative energy sources by 2025.  The Authority says the only way for this to happen is to build a large hydroelectric project in the railbelt region.

The current lower Watana proposal is much smaller than the original idea that was studied in the 1980s.  But the overall cost of the dam construction is in the billions of dollars.

AEA has been appropriated $10 million  in state funds to start the planning and design of a hydro project.

Speculation amongst Fish and Wildlife employees and others attending the Mat Su Salmon Symposium last week was the project was more than 12 years away from being built due to the environmental process the project would have to endure.

AEA is planning public workshops in February.  They also welcome written comments at largehydro [at] aidea [dot] org

Parnell announced he will propose legislation this next session that will allow AEA to pursue funding for the project.

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