KTNA Studio – Dave Totten, artist

Photo by Deb Wessler

Photo by Dora Miller

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


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:

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…)

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:


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:


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…)

In overtime, Alaska Legislature passes capital budget

Monday, April 28, 2014

Late last week, the Alaska State Legislature ended its session after running over the allotted time by five days.  The major snag at the end of session was wrangling over education funding.  Both the House and Senate wanted to increase education funding, but their methodologies were different.  In the end, a compromise was reached.

Also tied up in the end of session gridlock was the state’s capital budget.  The budget was being held back in order to absorb costs from the education bill.  In the Mat-Su, a number of projects received multi-million dollar funding numbers. Those included the Bogard Road Extension, Port Mackenzie rail extension, and West Lakes Fire Service Area, and the Houston Fire Station. (more…)

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.