Renewable energy report ignores Southeast Alaska

Palin adviser: 'I don't know why they aren't on the report'

Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2009

A proposed electrical intertie between Southeast Alaska and the western power grid has been inexplicably left off of a new report by the Western Governor's Association aimed at promoting the region's renewable energy resources.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File

The report, issued by the association June 15, is a listing of both untapped renewable energy resources throughout the West, as well as the new transmission lines that would be needed to develop them.

Southeast Alaska's huge hydroelectric potential is left off the report, however.

"I don't know why they aren't on the report, but that doesn't mean they don't exist," said Steven Haagenson, energy advisor to Gov. Sarah Palin. The state of Alaska pays dues of $36,000 a year to be part of the Western Governor's Association.

The report it issued, called the Western Renewable Energy Zones Initiative, was developed by western states and provinces between Arizona and Montana in the U.S. and British Columbia and Alberta in Canada.

Those states are served by the grid known as the Western Interconnection, separate from other grids in central Alaska, Texas, Quebec and the East Coast.

Haagenson said that Palin has announced a goal of getting 50 percent of the state's power from renewable energy by 2025, and meeting that goal will mean developing Southeast's abundant hydroelectric potential.

Southeast Alaska needs to be able to export power to develop its untapped hydroelectric resources economically, say long-time proponents of expanding low-cost power across the region.

A series of interties between communities within the region is underway which will work to provide backup power to communities that already have hydro, as well as bringing cheap power to those now burning expensive diesel for their power.

Really inexpensive power means taking advantage of economies of scale, and because even the largest communities in the region use relatively small amounts of power, that means finding a way to export it, said Ernie Christian, vice mayor of Wrangell and a member of its energy committee.

"We believe the AK-BC intertie is the key to developing the Southeast energy grid," he said.

Southeast had 3,000 megawatts of resources available, but has so far developed only 200 megawatts. The 78-megawatt Snettisham Power Project that powers Juneau is the largest in the region.

Christian was disappointed the AK-BC intertie was not considered by the Western Governor's Association as a new national emphasis on renewable energy, as this could be a good time to advance the project.

"I can see us contributing to the nation's energy needs, because once we are on the grid we can export that power anywhere," he said.

Getting the intertie in place means not just bringing power to the BC border, but working with Canadian provincial, First Nations and local communities to see that there is transmission capability from there to the Western Interconnection.

A the same time, big power projects have to be developed in Southeast to provide power to export, but those projects won't begin until an intertie is available.

Juneau's Duff Mitchell, business development manager for Cascade Creek LLC, a private company hoping to develop hydro projects in Southeast Alaska, has spent years trying to put those pieces together.

"I see the AK-BC intertie as the Southeast Alaska equivalent to the natural gas line - it's going to create green power jobs and prosperity," Mitchell said.

Karen Deike, spokeswoman for the Western Governor's Association, said it is likely that the energy report did not include Alaska because it is not part of the Western Interconnection.

Christian said Wrangell has invited Palin to visit, and they hope to explain the need for the intertie then.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.





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