KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

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KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

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Archives

Susitna-Watana clears one hurdle, but could face additional obstacles

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Earlier this month, the Alaska Energy Authority reached a land access agreement with the Cook Inlet Regional Working Group regarding land access to conduct field studies. The working group, which is composed six village corporations and Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated, will allow the studies to proceed on their land through 2015 and AEA will pay a permit fee of $2.5 million. The previous lack of an agreement meant that studies could not be conducted on the Alaska Native-owned land during 2013, and was the major reason cited by Governor Sean Parnell for cutting back significantly on Susitna-Watana’s budget for the fiscal year beginning in July.

The budget cuts and land access issues contributed to AEA’s request for an extension on the multi-year licensing required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on projects like Susitna-Watana.  Part of that delay includes pushing back the release of an Initial Study Report, which details the work that took place in 2013 and will lay out the plan for work through the second study season.  Originally, that report was scheduled to come out at the beginning of February, but has been pushed back to the beginning of June.  When the review period is taken into account, it means that the meetings to discuss future study plans will take place in October. (more…)

AEA reaches land access agreement with Cook Inlet Regional Working Group

Friday, April 4, 2014

A land access dispute that threatened to delay progress on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project has been resolved, though the agreement has come later than expected.

Friday afternoon, the Alaska Energy Authority issued a press release stating that a “complex” land access permit had been reached between AEA, six Cook Inlet village corporations, and Cook Inlet Region, Inc to allow access to Alaska Native-owned land that is in the study area for the proposed megaproject.  Over the past two years, discussions over land access have been ongoing, and were occasionally complicated by allegations of trespassing by contractors hired by AEA.  Details of the agreement were not available on Friday.

The land access agreement could also have an impact on funding for the Susitna-Watana project this year.  Governor Sean Parnell has asked the Alaska Legislature for a $32.7 million budget supplement for the current fiscal year.  If lawmakers approve the supplement, it would still require AEA to secure access to the village corporation lands.

While the agreement comes more than a month after AEA’s estimate that they would have an access permit by the end of February, it still represents a step forward for the project.  Now, the decision comes down to lawmakers as they discuss the state capital budget over the coming days.

Legislature could add funds for education, prioritize megaprojects

Friday, March 28, 2014

With less than a month until the end of the state’s legislative session, increasing discussion of the state budget is inevitable.  Members of both the House and Senate, as well as Governor Parnell, have made it clear that this budget year will be tight.  Cuts to a number of state programs have already been considered, and much of the discussion of the state’s operating budget is winding down.

In a major development on Friday, the Senate Finance Committee voted to add an additional $75 million dollars for education beyond what Governor Parnell had requested.  Now, the total number for education is $100 million.  Senator Pete Kelly, Co-Chair of the Finance Committee says the increase does not represent the final word on education funding.

“We want, as a group, to figure out education.  We may need some time to do that.  This amendment gives us time, while we are not putting the school districts too far out on a limb as we make our determination.” (more…)

Alaska Senate Finance Co-Chair: Supplemental Susitna-Watana funding “Up in the air.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Unless support materializes soon, the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project may not get the additional funds Governor Sean Parnell requested for it this year.  In February, Governor Parnell submitted his amended budget proposal to the Alaska legislature.  Included is a request for $32.7 million for the proposed Susitna-Watana Project.  If approved, the funding would be used to fund the 2014 field study season.  Governor Parnell has also requested $10 million for the fiscal year beginning in July, and the Alaska Energy Authority says it still has about $30 million left from the current budget.

With talk of the gas pipeline dominating energy and financial discussion, the smaller mega-project has not received as much attention.  On Wednesday, however, two Senate Republicans gave less than enthusiastic answers about the additional money.  Senator Kevin Meyer, who co-chairs the Finance Committee and focuses on capital projects, says that there are some items that the state “needs to fund,” but that Susitna-Watana is not currently one of them.

“I’m not convinced that it has to be funded….They haven’t used the appropriation we have given them in previous years, and obviously our focus right now is on the gas pipeline.  That one’s still up in the air, as far as I’m concerned.”

Thus far, no Senators in the Republican minority have come forward to publicly support the funding request for Susitna-Watana in what is already a tight budgeting session.  Senator Fred Dyson says it’s the wrong time for the project.

“At gas prices that we will see for the next ten, fifteen, twenty years, spending the capital cost to get the dam build and the transmission tie-ins is not economical.  I think it’s a decision that needs to be postponed at least a decade, and I think what the Governor has in mind is just keep the present engineering [and] surveying rolling forward.”

According to documents released by A-E-A on Monday, the additional $32.7 million for the current fiscal year would have an impact on 24 studies, including eleven that could not go forward at all this year without the additional funds.  A-E-A’s current timetable calls for limited field work this year, with the completion of many of the studies in the summer of 2015.   A-E-A estimates it will need a total of $110 million dollars to complete the studies necessary to apply for a federal license for the dam.

Talkeetna town hall meeting with Senator Lisa Murkowski

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Attached to this post is the complete recording of the town hall meeting with U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.

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AEA Receives Federal Criticism on Meeting, Study Schedule

Thursday, March 6, 2014

On Wednesday, a letter from employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning the Alaska Energy Authority’s plans for the Susitna-Watana Project was made public.  The letter criticizes the AEA’s current schedule of meetings and timing of upcoming research.   NMFS and Fish and Wildlife say that, due to short notice, lack of collaboration, schedule conflicts, and lack of advance meeting materials, that the two Services may not be able to participate in currently scheduled meetings. (more…)

Legislators Have Many Questions About Additional Susitna-Watana Funding

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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Last week, Governor Sean Parnell asked for a budget supplement of more than $32 million for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  The nature of the supplement has raised some questions, and it’s not clear at this time whether the state legislature will ultimately approve the additional spending.

At a meeting of the House Finance Committee last week, Karen Rehfeld, Director of the state Office of Management and Budget, fielded a number of questions from legislators regarding the Governor’s request for additional funding for the Susitna-Watana project.  Representative Les Gara of Anchorage compared the potential power output of the proposed dam against the state’s current gas line project.

“We spent $170 million, so far.  Why would we spend another $32 million at the same time we’re working on a large diameter gas line that would provide more energy than we can use–about eight times more energy than we can use–in tight fiscal times?” (more…)

Governor Parnell Proposes Additional $32.7 Million for Susitna-Watana

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Governor Sean Parnell is asking the Legislature for more money for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, but there’s a catch.  To get the funds, the Alaska Energy Authority must secure land access to study areas owned by seven Alaska Native Corporations.

Earlier this month, AEA Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad said that all progress had been made on land access, and she expected an agreement by the end of February.   That came after Governor Parnell cited a lack of access as his reason for funding just $10 million of the $110 million AEA says it needs to complete the studies and other work needed to obtain a federal license for the dam.  In his amended budget request, Governor Parnell is asking for an additional $32.7 million for the current fiscal year.  According to the Governor’s office, that funding would be contingent on AEA securing access to the study sites. (more…)

AEA Talks Susitna Dam Before State House Energy Committee

Thursday, February 6, 2014

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This week, the Alaska House Energy Committee heard testimony from the Alaska Energy Authority.  While the meeting was not initially intended to focus on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, a multitude of questions from legislators, as well as the presence of members of the Susitna River Coalition, prompted a shift that saw about half the meeting center around the proposed dam.  (more…)

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