KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

Photo by Deb Wessler

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KTNA Studio

KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by James Trump

Winter Black-capped Chickadee

winter chickadee

Photo by Robin Song

Fish Lake morning

Fish Lake morning

photo: Robin Song


Alaska Energy Authority files roadmap for Susitna Dam licensing

Monday, November 16, 2015

Even though the state legislature did not give additional funding to the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project this year, the Alaska Energy Authority has some funds left from previous years. AEA is attempting to continue the megaproject’s licensing process. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.



In response to a directive by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Alaska Energy Authority has filed a document that it says is a “roadmap” to the studies performed on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project from June 2014 onward.


The filing is the latest in an attempt by AEA to resume the integrated licensing process for the proposed hydroelectric megaproject. (more…)

AEA asks to un-pause licensing for Susitna-Watana

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Wednesday, the Alaska Energy Authority proposed an amended licensing schedule for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project after it was put on hold for months. Last December, Governor Bill Walker issued an administrative order year freezing new discretionary spending on six projects, including Susitna-Watana. In July, the Walker administration eased that restriction, allowing AEA to continue work on studies required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. About $6.6 million of the previously allocated funding remained available at that time. A July 5th memo from Walker’s Office of Management and Budget Director, Pat Pitney, says that using the remaining funds to complete studies in progress would help preserve the state’s investment thus far. The memo also states that the project will be re-evaluated during next year’s budget process.


If AEA’s proposed schedule is accepted, it will allow the agency to submit technical memoranda and other supplemental information to the initial study report that was written last summer through November 6th. The meetings discussing the study report with stakeholders would begin in mid-February. Along with the request, AEA submitted records from meetings with Native organizations and state and federal agencies. Of those, only the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service expressed concern over the proposed schedule.


Currently, the federal licensing process for Susitna-Watana remains on hold through September 2nd until and unless AEA’s request to resume is approved by FERC.

State lifts spending freeze on Susitna-Watana Hydro Project

Thursday, July 16, 2015

After a spending freeze by the governor and multiple attempts by the legislative minority to place it back into the state’s general fund, the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project team will now be allowed to spend over six million dollars it has left from previous years. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.


Last week, a memorandum from the state’s Office of Management and Budget lifted the spending freeze on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project instituted by Governor Bill Walker in December. Walker’s order had halted new spending on six projects, including the proposed 735-foot-high dam on the Susitna River.

At the time of the administrative order, the Alaska Energy Authority, the state corporation in charge of Susitna-Watana, said it had around $30 million remaining from previous appropriations. Of that, $6.6 million was unencumbered. The rest was already committed to studies for the proposed megaproject.

Emily Ford, spokeswoman for AEA, says, now that the funds have been freed up, the pre-licensing study process will continue through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We’re just going to be picking up where we left off as part of this Initial Study Report Process. We essentially pushed a big pause button in the middle of that effort by filing for a license abeyance with FERC. So next, what we’ll do is lift that abeyance and resume with the FERC schedule.”

The money that AEA is once-again allowed to spend on Susitna-Watana represents just over three percent of total allocation to the current project proposal to date. Emily Ford says that means there are not currently plans for the type of large-scale research that took place in the Susitna Valley over the last two years.

“The focus and the goal is to preserve the investment that the state’s already made in the project by either wrapping up studies that are near completion or synthesizing data that was collected in the field and making sure that it’s in a usable format.”

After that, it will be up to the legislature and the governor to determine whether additional funds go to Susitna-Watana. AEA estimates the project’s cost at over $5.5 billion, and Emily Ford says that the agency plans to act based on the funding that the state’s fiscal reality allows.

On Thursday, the Talkeetna-based Susitna River Coalition, a group opposed to Susitna-Watana, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Governor Walker’s decision. The Coalition cites criticism by federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, of studies conducted as part of the early phases of the project. Coalition board member Becky Long believes the decision runs contrary to Governor Walker’s stated policy goals, and that Susitna-Watana, if built, would be costly beyond the price tag for construction.

“We have to look at future litigation costs, future mitigation costs, and, in general, the governor has been talking up a lot about fiscal responsibility and fish-first policies. And we think this goes against those policies.”

Becky Long says the Susitna River Coalition is concerned that AEA may not be able to finish the studies already underway without cutting corners, which could lead to litigation.

Now that the fiscal picture has, at least temporarily, cleared, AEA plans to establish a new schedule with federal regulators. That schedule will include public meetings on the Initial Study Report completed last year. AEA’s Emily Ford says those meetings will likely occur in late fall of this year.

Gov. Walker’s capital budget proposal cuts all funding for Susitna Dam

Friday, January 23, 2015

Late on Thursday, Governor Bill Walker released his initial budget proposal for next fiscal year.  The cuts included nearly all state departments and a number of megaprojects, including the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:

Whether you call it a crisis, a situation, or something else, the clear consensus both in Juneau and around the state is that Alaska is facing a difficult budget year.  Before the beginning of the legislative session on January 20th, the projected budget shortfall was around $3.5 billion.  Governor Bill Walker, in his State of the Budget address Thursday night, said that significant cuts will be necessary across the board.  As part of those cuts, Governor Walker’s proposed budget has zeroed-out six major projects, including the Knik Arm Bridge and the Susitna-Watana dam. (more…)

New Report Questions Susitna-Watana Economics; AEA Responds

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A new fiscal analysis of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project questions the Alaska Energy Authority’s estimates regarding how much the 735-foot tall dam would cost the State of Alaska, if built.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has this report:

On Monday, economist Gregg Erickson released his analysis of the financial picture of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  The report was commissioned by Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that opposes the project.  Erickson has worked for the University of Alaska Anchorage, a Washington D.C. think-tank, and in multiple roles for the State of Alaska.  He says that, from his perspective, Susitna-Watana doesn’t pencil out.

“There is no market test that this proposed project meets.  There’s every evidence that they’ve underestimated the cost and overestimated the demand.  It doesn’t seem at all likely that the project could be built without very, very large amounts of state subsidy.” (more…)

Report Challenges Susitna-Watana Economics

Monday, December 8, 2014

A new analysis claims that the economics of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectic Project are unfeasible.  The report was commissioned by Trout Unlimited, a group opposing the project, and it was carried out by economist Gregg Erickson.  In it, Erickson says that the Alaska Energy Authority’s cost projections for the 735-foot tall dam leave out major factors, such as leasing and purchasing Alaska Native-owned land and building nearly $900 million in new electrical transmission lines.  Gregg Erickson also says that large projects built by AEA have a history of coming in over budget.

AEA’s estimate of the cost of Susitna-Watana is around $5.2 billion.  Erickson says that the plan to pay for the megaproject would end up being much higher than AEA estimates.  He says the five percent interest rate being used in official projections is “unrealistically low.”  Erickson claims that the hydro project only pays for itself under a narrow set of assumptions.

Susitna-Watana Project Manager Wayne Dyok disputes many of Erickson’s findings.  Dyok says that other large hydro projects have come in at budget and many received financing at less than five percent interest.  AEA plans to release additional feasibility information in January, including a third-party financial analysis that Dyok says falls within ten percent of AEA’s estimates.  Dyok maintains that the economics of the megaproject are viable.

Su Valley Voice for 11/26/14: Vern Halter

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Attached is the entire interview with Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Vern Halter.  Topics included borough priorities, recent and upcoming ordinances, and state funding priorities.  The next live Su-Valley Voice will be on December 10th at 10:00 am with Sue Deyoe of the Talkeetna Historical Society.

Susitna Dam Study Report Meetings Begin Wednesday

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Beginning on Wednesday, the Alaska Energy Authority will hold meetings to discuss the initial study report for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  Wednesday’s discussion will include study reports on fish in the Susitna River drainage.  Those studies have recently drawn criticism from the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  AEA maintains that criticism is unfounded.

Other meetings will cover water, ice, plants and wildlife, geology, and social studies.  The overall objective of the meetings is to allow stakeholders and AEA to discuss the studies.  The outcome of the meetings will be a potentially revised plan for second-year studies in 2015.

The full schedule of meetings, as well as draft agendas, is available here.

AEA: Fisheries Service Criticism of Susitna Dam Studies “Untenable, Bordering on the Absurd”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Alaska Energy Authority has responded to letters from the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that questioned research being done on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.

Of the two federal agencies, the National Marine Fisheries Service took a stronger position regarding A-E-A’s ability to produce accurate models of salmon activity in the Susitna River.  The NMFS letter cited fourteen areas of concern, including sampling methods and possible misidentification of juvenile fish.  The agency says that the problems are significant enough that no further studies should be done until they are resolved.

On Wednesday, AEA labeled the criticism as inaccurate.  In a news release, Susitna-Watana Project Manager Wayne Dyok says the NMFS letter, “relies on mischaracterizations and generalizations.”  The actual response letter by AEA, which is signed by Dyok, goes even further, saying that assertions made by the Fisheries Service are “untenable, bordering on the absurd.”

AEA’s response letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service totals nearly fifty pages.  Most of that is a line-by-line refutation of the concerns listed by NMFS.  Many of AEA’s specific responses assert that NMFS is either ignoring the data or misunderstands the methodologies being used.  The Alaska Energy Authority maintains that it is following the study plan approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC will have the opportunity to hear out both sides, soon.  Meetings are scheduled to start next week to discuss the Susitna-Watana field work.  Part of the objective of those meetings is for FERC to decide what, if any, changes need to be made in future field studies.