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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:

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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…)

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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

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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.

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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.

National Marine Fisheries Service Issues Letter on Susitna-Watana Fish Studies

Monday, September 29, 2014

Last week, the National Marine Fisheries Service wrote a letter to the Alaska Energy Authority that criticized methods used in studies for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  The Fisheries Service listed fourteen concerns regarding studies of fish in the Susitna River drainage, ranging from issues with sampling sites to the potential misidentification of juvenile salmon.  The letter states that the issues will have significant impact on AEA’s ability to accurately model salmon behavior in the river, and that they “must be resolved prior to conducting additional field studies.”

Julie Speegle, spokeswoman for NMFS, says she believes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also filed a letter, though did not do so electronically.  Emily Ford, spokeswoman for the Alaska Energy Authority, says AEA anticipates working with all of the involved agencies at the upcoming round of meetings on Susitna-Watana.  She adds that AEA does not have a comment regarding the letter from the Fisheries Service.

The next meetings to discuss the studies for the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project will begin on October 15th.

Preliminary Permit Filed for Talkeetna River Dam

Friday, September 26, 2014

As the next round of public meetings on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project draw closer, the initial paperwork for another hydro project has been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning has read the proposal, and has this report:

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So far, the State of Alaska has spent nearly $200 million in studies for a large hydroelectric project on the Susitna River.  Now, a private company is starting the process of looking into a smaller project on the Talkeetna River.  The company is Northwest Power Service, Incorporated.  Brent Smith is heading up the Alaska operation, and says that this is the first time that NPSI is proposing building a dam, though it has considerable experience in hydropower.

“Most all of the projects that Northwest Power Service has been involved with in the past is to retrofit existing, federally owned dams in the Lower 48, where we go in and there’s already an existing dam that does not have power generation on it.  So, what we do is go through a licensing process to retrofit that dam and put power on it.”

The dam that NPSI is proposing would generate 75 megawatts of power, far less than that proposed by Susitna-Watana.  It would also have a much smaller footprint than the Susitna project, with a height of 370 feet. (more…)

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AEA holds public meetings in Upper Valley, Anchorage

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This week, the Alaska Energy Authority held public meetings in the Upper Valley and Anchorage to discuss the plans for the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  In addition to AEA’s updates on the progress and plans for the megaproject, opponents to the dam expressed continuing concerns.  KTNA’s Phillip Manning was at the Talkeetna meeting, and has this report:

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Both the Talkeetna and Anchorage meetings began with a presentation by Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana.  He says that the Susitna Dam remains a key part of the state’s goal for fifty percent of Alaska’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2025.  Wayne Dyok says that, while AEA is interested in wind and other alternative energy projects, that the large dam would provide stability to the overall grid.

“Without having some kind of resource, like a hydro, it’s difficult to put that into the system and still have a stable electric system.  We also want reliable energy, and sustainable energy, and energy that’s clean.” (more…)

Rep. Keller: “It doesn’t make sense” to build the Susitna dam right now

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A persistent question during the state’s legislative session this year was whether Alaska can afford to move forward on all of the megaprojects currently on its plate.  The Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project was among those.  Is it possible that legislative support for the dam is losing steam?  KTNA’s Phillip Manning spoke with Representative Wes Keller about Susitna-Watana, and has this report:

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Near the end of the legislative session, Representative Wes Keller, who represents the area where the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project is being proposed, voted against an amendment to strip the $20 million in funding for the dam from the capital budget.  Now, he says that there may not be the political will to see the project through to completion, but that he still stands by his vote for the sake of continuing scientific studies on the Susitna River.

“I really don’t anticipate that’s going to go much further, but the studies that were started on the salmon, the impact, and all that kind of stuff…We don’t want to just pay for half of it and not have anything usable at all.” (more…)

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