Six years in the making: Juneau Hydropower secures license needed to operate

This picture from the city's Community Development Department shows Sweetheart Lake covered in ice. The lake, which is about 37 miles southeast of downtown, is the proposed site of a new hydroelectric power facility.

In 2010, Juneau Hydropower started down a long regulatory road to obtain a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, six years and several million dollars later, the company has that license in hand.

 

On Thursday afternoon, the federal commission granted Juneau Hydropower a license for its Sweetheart Lake Hydroelectric Project, which “means a lot” if you ask Keith Comstock, the company’s owner and CEO.

“That’s the big one,” he told the Empire in a phone interview Thursday. “That’s the hydropower license that allows us to own and operate a hydropower facility.”

Beyond that, however, the FERC license allows Juneau Hydropower to move beyond the remaining regulatory safeguards standing between the company and construction.

The company has essentially completed the roughly 25 preliminary environmental plans that it needs to file — such as a Bear Safety Plan for the U.S. Forest Service. Regulatory agencies wouldn’t sign off on any of these plans until the company had its FERC license.

[Juneau Hydropower secures permit for Sweetheart Lake]

“We’ve moved from a speculative or a hopeful project to a real licensed project; that’s a big difference,” Comstock said. “It’s like we graduated high school, and we’re off to college now.”

College, as far as Juneau Hydropower is concerned, is securing power purchase agreements, finalizing loans and equity investments, negotiating contracts; the list goes on. And that’s before the company can build its 19.8-megawatt facility comprising a 280-foot wide concrete dam and three 7.1-megawatt turbines (among other things) at Sweetheart Lake.

There is much work yet to be done before the company can start generating power, but Comstock said he is happy to make it has far as he has. About eight out of 10 projects that begin the FERC licensing process never obtain the license they are seeking, Comstock said. That’s an anecdotal statistic was furnished by FERC officials, though, which Comstock said he wasn’t able to corroborate.

“Just getting here was kind of a long shot,” he said, and it wasn’t inexpensive either.

Comstock said Juneau Hydropower has already invested millions in this project — though he wouldn’t be more specific than that.

“It wasn’t cheap, but we think we got really good value because we used local people wherever we could,” Comstock said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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