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My Turn: Susitna-Watana Hydro is unprecedentedlicensing and environmental study effort

Posted: October 3, 2013 - 12:02am

Through the Alaska Energy Authority, the State of Alaska is pursuing an energy infrastructure project that can provide clean, reliable and affordable energy for more than 100 years. Susitna-Watana Hydro is a proposed hydroelectric project on the Susitna River in the remote Interior of the state. It would provide half of the electricity needs of the Railbelt, supporting Alaskans from north of Fairbanks to Homer.

Alaska has some of the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation and continues to lead the way in the development of natural resources, fossil fuels and renewables. Alaska’s renewable energy goal is to derive 50 percent of our power from renewable and alternative energy by 2025. Extensive review has identified large-scale hydroelectric as the means to achieve this goal.

Susitna-Watana Hydro has entered the beginning of an estimated six-year licensing effort with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Nothing about this process can be described as rushed and I reject any insinuations otherwise. It is an intensive licensing effort with consistent deadlines that includes extensive scientific study and stakeholder collaboration.

Fifty-eight multi-year environmental studies are under way. This is an unprecedented effort and we will know more about the Susitna Basin than ever before. More than 385 private-sector industry experts, a majority of whom are Alaskans, are working on this project. We are also capitalizing on the wealth of hydropower expertise from across the globe. The Alaska Energy Authority maintains a small working group of employees, but this project development effort remains a partnership with the private sector.

The project is on schedule and on budget. Field crews have been gathering valuable information from the botanical resources, large game and mammals, fish, aquatic resources, cultural resources, and much more. We will publish our results of this year’s field work on February 3, 2014 at Susitna-WatanaHydro.org. We are proud of the accomplishments thus far and look forward to the work ahead.

Susitna-Watana Hydro provides the opportunity to strike a balance between the need for power and environmental concerns. No other region of the state knows the benefits of hydropower more than Southeast Alaska. The State-owned Snettisham Hydro project has been providing low-cost power to Juneau for 40 years.

I encourage everyone to stay informed about the work being completed by scientists and stakeholders to ensure Susitna-Watana Hydro progresses to supply affordable energy to Alaskans. Visit our website for more information.

Sara Fisher-Goad is executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority

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