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KTNA On Air Studio, Jan 2013

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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…)

Draft of Initial Study Report for the Susitna Hydro Project is Released

Monday, February 3, 2014

The draft version of the initial study reports for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project is now available.  On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission posted more than ninety documents submitted by the Alaska Energy Authority detailing the initial findings of the fifty-eight studies that brought scores of scientists, pilots, and other logistical staff to the Upper Valley last summer.  Studies outlined in the documents range from ice formation on the Susitna River, to potential impact on wood frog habitat.

Currently, future studies are in a state of uncertainty.  In December, Governor Parnell’s proposed budget fell about ninety percent short of what would be needed to complete the field work and other work necessary for AEA to apply for a license to build the mega-project. The reason given for the budget cut was lack of access to land owned by Alaska Native Corporations.  That lack of access also poses a physical barrier to a large portion of the land that needs to be studied in order for the project to move forward.  As a result, AEA has moved its timeline for permit application from late 2015 to late 2016.

The final version of the initial study reports are due on June 3.  Afterwards, stakeholders will have 120 days to review the findings before the first round of meetings to discuss the potential impacts of the proposed dam.

FERC Responds to AEA Request for Extended Study Report Timeline

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has granted a request from the Alaska Energy Authority to extend the timeline for the initial study reports on the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project.  In addition, FERC has also granted the recommendation made by many individuals, NGO, and a few federal agencies to extend the review period for those reports. (more…)

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