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As Susitna Dam scoping meetings approach, gas pitched as Dam alternative

by Lorien Nettleton ~ March 22nd, 2012

Federal Agencies have requested a time extension to draw up their study plans for the proposed Susitna Watana hydro-dam, which were due at the end of March, but the agencies say the fast-paced timeline of the license application process leave them with too little time. It is unknown whether or not they will be granted a one-month extension by the Alaska Energy Authority.

Next week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also known as FERC is holding scoping meetings for the Susitna Dam. The meetings are an opportunity for interested parties, residents, and experts to address issues with the project, and allow FERC the opportunity to recommend adjustments to the permit plans.

The Proposed Susitna Watana Hydroelectric Dam may not be the most cost-effective way to meet the energy needs of the railbelt. Hydropower Reform representative Jan Konigsberg helps facilitate community involvement in hydroelectric dam licensing processes nationwide, and he will be working with Susitna Valley residents during a work session before the scoping meeting in Talkeetna next Wednesday. Konigsberg says that in spite of the promise of renewable energy source, the State could meet railbelt energy needs for less than the cost of the dam if they invested in state-owned natural gas exploration instead.

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Part of the appeal of the Dam is the promise of stable pricing on electricity, since the estimated 4.5 billion dollars price tag for building the Dam is the only investment, and the price of water will never fluctuate because the water will be free. Konigsberg suggests that if the state invested in gas infrastructure, it could stabilizing the price of gas for Alaskan energy needs.

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Compared to the potential impacts the proposed 700-foot dam and 39-mile reservoir could have on habitat, Konigsberg says Cook Inlet gas will have less impact on the environment, in part because the infrastructure is already there.

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The FERC scoping meetings for the pre-license process of the Susitina Dam will start next week, and will take place in the Talkeetna area on Wednesday, March 28th at 6pm Su Valley Jr/Sr high.

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