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House Energy hears AEA Report on Susitna Dam

by Lorien Nettleton ~ January 27th, 2012

Alaska Energy Authority officials updated the House Energy Committee Thursday on the status of the proposed Susitna Watana Dam. AEA’s Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad and Susitna Hydropower Lead Project Manager Wayne Dyok laid out the timeline leading up to their licensing application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which they plan to file by the end of 2015.

AEA hopes the dam will be licensed by 2017, with construction completed by 2023.  That timeline would aid the State’s goal of supplying 50% of Alaska’s energy needs with renewables by 2025.

A number of studies must be completed before the actual licensing process begins, and Dyok said the next 11 months would be spent working to satisfy FERC’s pre-application requirements.

In an effort to maintain transparency, AEA has scheduled four public scoping meetings around the state in March, making presentations in Anchorage, Wasilla, Talkeetna, Fairbanks. These meetings are the only outreach to railbelt communities scheduled so far. Representative Saddler asked what efforts were being made to further engage the public, Dyok said there was more work to be done in making the case for the dam, saying the steady energy prices and more jobs were enough to persuade Alaskans. The AEA is searching for a public relations team to put together an outreach campaign to the tune of five-hundred-thousand dollars.

Dyok said a number of studies are still necessary to evaluate transmission needs, access routes, compensation and environmental impact studies. The Dam’s price tag was an estimated 4.6 billion dollars, but Dyok told committee members a clearer picture on that estimate would be ready sometime next week.

Representative Tuck, a Democrat from District 29, wanted to know why the proposed 700 foot height of the dam includes a possible 150 foot expansion. He questioned why the dam wouldn’t be built to the larger size in the first place, citing a larger dam proposed in 2009 that would have been 850 feet tall and produce 200 percent more power at only a 22 percent increase in cost of the dam. Tuck added that he would like to see gas power made obsolete through hydropower.

AEA’s consulting attorney said they would be engaging in talks with Native corporations in the next few weeks over issues of land ownership as well as surface and mineral rights.

Dyok said that the Susitna Hydro project was still operating on 2011 funding, and would not be requesting additional money during this session.

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