Hydro offered again as energy alternative

Posted: Monday, July 14, 2008

ANCHORAGE - An ambitious hydropower project at Chakachamna Lake was among about three dozen proposals in a competition for $5 million in seed money to kick-start alternative energy projects across Alaska.

Except for the hydropower project, nearly all the others were medium- to small-scale projects that include a wind farm on Kodiak Island, a series of "low-impact hydro" projects in Kenai Peninsula streams and a geothermal plant at Manley Hot Springs.

Proponents say the increasingly high cost of energy derived from fossil fuels in Alaska and the improving affordability of green alternatives is driving the move toward alternative energy. The sudden availability of state oil-windfall cash also is helping.

As a result, legislators recently appropriated $25 million for a Fire Island wind farm and authorized spending $250 million on future renewable energy projects.

Some want to go even further, drafting a bill last week to spend $21 billion over the next five years for alternative energy.

As envisioned by Pribilof-based TDX Power, a Native-owned firm that's backed other renewable energy projects in Alaska, Chakachamna no longer includes the dam featured in a 1980s version of the same project.

TDX says think of the revised project as nothing more than a drain pipe in the neighboring Tordrillo Mountains. Or a very deep hole that engineers would drill into the bottom of 14-mile-long Chakachamna Lake to funnel water from the mountains down a 24-foot-wide tunnel 12 miles long.

After descending nearly 1,000 vertical feet, the water would enter a huge subterranean power plant built near sea level. There it would jet past four turbines, generating about 1.6 billion kilowatt-hours of power a year. That's enough to electrify nearly a third of all the homes from Fairbanks to Anchorage to Homer.

The water would then re-enter the Chakachamna drainage system through an outlet at McArthur River, while the power would connect to the Railbelt energy grid through two parallel transmission lines stretching 42 miles to the big gas-fired power plant at Beluga.

Over the long run, TDX officials say, the hydro project could provide less expensive electricity to all of the state's Railbelt communities.

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