Power intertie gets injection of state cash

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

The Southeast Alaska electrical intertie - a long-range, multi-phase power project intended to connect the region's communities - is getting a boost from the state.

Southeast Conference will receive almost $50,000 to study legal and legislative options for the intertie, according to Executive Director Loren Gerhard. Southeast Conference is a nonprofit regional development organization made up of communities and other groups in Southeast Alaska.

The grant will be used to study what type of operating entity might be appropriate for the intertie and what powers it would have. Eventually, the hope is to have such an entity take over the project, allowing Southeast Conference to bow out, Gerhard said. The organization hopes to start the research by the end of the month, he said.

The first phase of the intertie would connect Swan Lake near Ketchikan with Lake Tyee near Wrangell. Other links could connect Petersburg and Kake, Juneau and Hoonah, Sitka and Kake, and Sitka, Angoon and Hoonah. Eventually, Prince of Wales Island and Metlakatla would fit into the system, Gerhard said.

Each of the components would need to go through an environmental analysis and permitting process, he said. Southeast environmentalists have opposed the Swan Lake-Lake Tyee intertie.

Congress last year authorized up to $384 million for the intertie with a 20 percent local match. Federal money will need to be appropriated separately.

Alaska Electric Light and Power Vice President David Stone said the intertie could create a market for Juneau's surplus power and mean more reliable service for consumers. The intertie also could help AEL&P fully utilize power from a proposed hydroelectric project at Lake Dorothy, he said.

"To the extent that we can help communities that rely a lot on diesel, it's good for everybody," he said.

In additional to economic benefits, the project has other advantages, Gerhard told Juneau's Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

"It ties us to the rest of the region politically. And we need all the help we can get," he said.

Gerhard added that the project is intended to reduce electric costs.

"It should not and cannot affect rates. The system has to pay for itself," he said.

Under a best-case scenario, an entity would be set up by the end of the year with legislation in place by the end of next session, Gerhard said.

The state grant is from the Department of Community and Economic Development through the U.S. Forest Service. The funding is aimed at communities hurt by a downturn in the timber industry, said department local government specialist Peter Freer. A committee also recommended funding for projects in Wrangell, Coffman Cove, Sitka, Hoonah, Thorne Bay and Whale Pass that focus on docks, harbors and other improvements, he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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