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Climate Change Studies and the Susitna Dam

by Phillip Manning ~ August 2nd, 2013

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Opponents of the Susitna Dam have asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to release documents explaining their decision not to require in-depth climate change studies.  An attorney representing the Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives sent the letter to FERC on Thursday.  The National Marine Fisheries Service wants FERC to require extensive studies on the impact of climate change regarding the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. FERC denied the request, and has already been asked to release documents related to their decision, but claims that the requested documents are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

FERC cited lack of data reliability and cost as contributing to their decision. Richard Leo is the President of the Coalition for Susitna Dam Alternatives, and says that the goal of their appeal is to determine the details that influenced FERC’s decision.

“FERC had established a panel of experts to consider this question, and those experts concluded that climate change studies were a good idea–to do in comprehensive detail.  FERC rejected that recommendation by their own panel, and the reasons that they did are what we are trying to uncover.”

The Alaska Energy Authority is the state corporation tasked with the Susitna Dam.  Wayne Dyok is the Project Manager for the dam, and says that AEA intends to conduct a portion of the studies requested by NMFS, even if they will not be required by FERC.

“They’re asking us to look at a literature search, only.  AEA has elected to do a climate change study for the region upstream of the Watana Dam, primarily because we want to understand how glacial melt might affect runoff over the next hundred years, because that is our fuel source.  It’s a very sophisticated model that we’re undertaking, and I believe that it’s very consistent with what the National Marine Fisheries Service would like the Alaska Energy Authority to undertake.”

Dyok says the primary distinction between AEA and the Fisheries Service plans is that AEA does not intend to conduct the same type of detailed modeling downstream of the dam site.  He says that there have been follow up meetings with the Fisheries Service to address their concerns.

The Susitna Dam has encountered some setbacks this summer, most notably from Alaska Native Corporations who have not issued permits for land access for many of the fifty-eight environmental impact studies. Richard Leo says this means more time and money.

“It seems increasingly clear that the studies will not be done in two years, but require at least three years to complete, thus delaying the entire process of the dam and requiring more expense to determine what the actual effects of the dam are going to be.”

Wayne Dyok says that discussions are ongoing with the Alaska Native Corporations, but there should be no delays to the study timeline.

“We want to work with the Alaska Native landowners.  We have some work to do there to gain access, but we developed a contingency plan this year, if we did not have access, that would allow us to remain on schedule.”

The studies are part of a licensing process that takes years to complete.  After all of the environmental impact studies are complete, FERC will decide whether or not to permit the dam to be built.  AEA’s timeframe calls for preliminary licensing to begin in September of 2015.

 

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