Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Alaska moves forward w/ new dam

A proposed 700-foot high dam on a popular Alaskan recreational river
would be the largest dam built in the U.S. in decades. Two articles.


Alaska pursuing major dam project on Susitna River

Associated Press

Published: July 25th, 2011 05:23 PM
Last Modified: July 25th, 2011 05:24 PM

Alaska is moving forward with what would be the highest dam built in
the United States in decades, a $4.5 billion project aimed at helping
meet the energy needs of the state's most populous region.

Gov. Sean Parnell told a news conference in Anchorage Monday that
completion of the 700-foot-high Susitna River dam is scheduled for
2023. But major hurdles must be overcome first, including securing the
necessary permits and financing. State support is expected to be vital
to the project's prospects. Officials say the dam, which would be
located about halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, would help meet
Alaska's goal of having half its electricity generated from renewable
energy sources by 2025. Parnell said the project would generate about
2.6 million megawatt hours of electricity a year. It would have a
reservoir 39 miles long and up to 2 miles wide.

A similar proposal was tabled in the mid-1980s as the cost of other
sources of electricity remained relatively cheap. But Parnell said
hydropower has the capacity to create jobs and new opportunities and
open up the economy just as other major infrastructure projects of the
past, and even the Internet more recently, have. And he said it's time
to commit to this project, which he sees as part of a larger state
energy package that also includes oil and natural gas development.

The Alaska Energy Authority, which is overseeing the project, is
planning to file this fall a notice of intent with federal regulators,
essentially letting them know the state is ready to move ahead.

"It's time for Alaska to make the needed investment in renewables that
we have in abundance, more than any state in this nation," Parnell said.

Richard Leo believes the project is unnecessary, in part given the
recently announced, larger-than-believed natural gas reserves in Cook
Inlet that could be tapped to meet electricity demands for Anchorage
and much of southcentral Alaska.

Parnell said the dam project does not render moot the pursuit of an in-
state gas pipeline, saying abundant energy creates opportunities and
"you can never have too much opportunity." A recent report suggested
such an in-state pipeline could cost in the range of $7.5 billion, and
the state would be expected to cover much, if not all, of the
construction cost.

Leo, who is with the newly formed Coalition for Susitna Dam
Alternatives, said the dam has the potential to be "destructive on a
massive scale," citing among other things possible impacts on salmon
runs and caribou habitat.

He chalks up the pursuit of the dam to "megalomania," saying it's the
kind of legacy project for which many politicians would like to take


Starting Susitna: Hydroelectric dam faces a few less obstacles now
Jul 14, 2011 | 893 views | 11 | 4 | |
Letter to the editor

Legislation signed by the governor Thursday adds just a few words to
state law, but they could have an enormous effect upon the state itself.

Parnell signed SB 42, which gives the Alaska Energy Authority some
needed authority to pursue permits for a hydroelectric dam on the
Susitna River.

State law already allowed the energy authority to �enter into
contracts ... for the construction, financing, operation and
maintenance of all or any part of a power project.�

However, the law didn�t specifically allow the authority to apply for
permits to �acquire� or �construct� such a project. The law signed by
Gov. Sean Parnell on Thursday corrects that oversight. The law also
provides that the authority can �perform feasibility studies and
engineering and design with respect to power projects.� And it
clarifies that the authority, for a Susitna project, possesses the
state�s power to obtain property through eminent domain.

These changes eliminate potential legal obstacles that any opponents
of a Susitna dam might exploit in court. And opponents will appear
quickly if the state moves to build on the Susitna River.

First, there are the other suppliers of industrial-scale energy to
consider. It�s simply realistic to acknowledge that they have an
interest in making sure Susitna does not proceed.

Second, there are people concerned with the environmental impacts.
While hydroelectric power sometimes gets a pass these days because it
doesn�t put carbon in the atmosphere, no one can deny that Susitna
raises some other tough issues.

The dam would drown a long stretch of river, for starters.
Fortunately, the canyon is deep enough that the resulting lake would
be relatively narrow, and few significant flatlands would be
inundated. Also, given the Susitna�s incredible turbulence and flow
rate, no salmon runs have conquered Devil�s Canyon.

Nevertheless, the annual fluctuations of water and silt feed an
enormous and complex ecosystem downstream. A dam would remove silt and
stabilize the flow, which inevitably would change that ecosystem.

For such reasons, Alaska�s active environmental community has a long
history of antipathy toward a Susitna dam. However, skepticism won�t
come from that quarter alone. Some fishermen, hunters and recreational
users of the Susitna delta also are likely to raise protests.

Whether the environmental drawbacks of the dam outweigh the
environmental and economic benefits will be a subject of study and
discussion. At the outset, though, the incredible benefits offered by
the dam appear to have the edge. It�s good to see the state getting
the process started.

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - Starting Susitna Hydroelectric
dam faces a few less obstacles now

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