Energy bill moves ahead, Susitna dam project advances

Energy authority bill becomes first to pass special session

Legislators completed work Wednesday on the first of 10 items eligible for consideration under the restrictions placed on the special session Gov. Sean Parnell called Sunday.

The House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 42, following similar action Tuesday by the Senate on the bill.

That legislation begins work on the Susitna Hydroelectric Project, which intends to build at dam at the Susitna River’s Watana site.

Construction of the dam will be a “legacy project,” said Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, which will provide economic stability for decades into the future.

“I appreciate the Legislature acting on one of my top priorities,” Parnell said Wednesday, following the final vote.

Developing the project, including engineering, land acquisition and obtaining a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars for several years. Construction of the dam will cost billions more, according to bill testimony over the last few months.

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said the Legislature’s action this year shows that it intends to build the Susitna project.

“It sends a message to my constituents that were doing something, not just studying it anymore,” she said.

SB 42 gives the Alaska Energy Authority, part of the state-controlled Alaska Industrial Development Authority, the ability to taken on the project, and also gives it eminent domain authority to acquire the needed land from private property owners.

Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, said one of the side benefits of the hydroelectric dam was that it would create a 39-mile-long lake, with new fishing, recreation and cabin location opportunities.

While there are multiple smaller hydroelectric projects around the state, especially in Southeast, the Susitna project would be the largest in the state.

“This project will generate stable, affordable energy for the Railbelt and for thousands of Alaskans in the Interior, while creating hundreds of jobs for Alaskans,” Parnell said.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, acknowledged the dam would be a big undertaking for the state, but said he was confident it would be a good deal for Alaska.

“Show me one community in Alaska which has regrets about moving forward with hydropower,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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