Power: Alaska's new export

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

Ketchikan Daily News By Lew Williams

When 800 people in Ketchikan sought to incorporate the community in 1900, the 95 petitioners included 43 miners; no fishermen and only one logger.

When mining died, fisheries took over to the point that by 1930 Ketchikan was the largest town in the territory. Fourteen salmon canneries backed the sign over Mission Street proclaiming: "The Canned Salmon Capital of the World." ("Canned" was dropped later.)

Timber saved Ketchikan when fishing faded. It helped all of Alaska because Ketchikan Pulp Co. paid 20 percent of the corporate income taxes collected by the territory before oil.

Now it's tourism. Ketchikan is scrambling to build additional dock space for more and bigger cruise ships, and to build upland attractions - an expanded museum and library, an aquarium and an arts center.

Construction also is a big part of the economy with the shipyard, harbor expansion and highway construction.

History tells us that after its boom, an industry settles down to give Ketchikan a stable diverse economy. We still have mineral exploration, fishing, small-scale timber, construction and government.

So what's next? Power. Clean hydroelectric power to use and to sell.

Power boosts all of Southeast and its industries. It increases the need for infrastructure, such as a road connection to the Outside via Bradfield Canal and a road to Skagway from Juneau.

When Gov. Frank Murkowski was a U.S. senator, he convinced Congress to authorize construction of a power grid to cover the entire Panhandle. The legislation didn't appropriate money but the money appeared and work began.

Under construction is the Swan Lake-Tyee Lake intertie to link Ketchikan's and Wrangell-Petersburg's hydro sites. Poles are being erected on Admiralty Island as the first phase of extending power from Juneau's Snettisham hydro plant to Greens Creek mine. The next phase extends the line from Greens Creek to Hoonah. The Kensington mine at Berners Bay will need power.

Metlakatla is applying to the Denali Commission for money to extend its hydro power line along the new road under construction by the U.S. Army to shorten the ferry run to Ketchikan. It also shortens the route to send surplus Metlakatla power the Swan Lake-Tyee grid. A route is being selected to extend a power line from Petersburg to Kake. It could serve a mining project at the south end of Wrangell Narrows that is being explored by the Olympic and Bravo combine.

The weekly Terrace Standard reports that work has started on a road from British Columbia's Highway 37 to the Coast Mountain power project on the Iskut River, 60 miles north of Stewart, B.C. That power plant is what B.C. Hydro, the largest power company in British Columbia, calls a green project. It requires no dam. Part of the water is diverted from the river into a tunnel that drives turbines and then is returned to the river. B.C. Hydro, which operates the 11,000-megawatt Peace River hydro project, is looking for more green power.

The newspaper quotes Coastal President Cliff Grandison: "Coastal Mountain is also exploring the potential to extend the power line 53 miles ... to connect the Alaskan power system to B.C.'s and the rest of the North American grid. ... They've got excess power in Alaska right now. They could in theory ship it all the way down into the United States. ... A power link with Alaska could come as part of the proposed Bradfield Road link from Southeast Alaska to Highway 37."

The Iskut power plant will develop 112 megawatts, five times the power generated at Swan Lake or Tyee Lake. The power will go into the B.C. Hydro system to boost mining in northwest B.C. and to market elsewhere. It could market Alaska's surplus power. Alaska will have more green power after the Southeast grid is completed. A Bellingham company has applied for a license to develop 80 megawatts of power at Thomas Bay north of Petersburg.

Power and transportation are the infrastructure Southeast needs to lower its cost of living, to diversify and boost its economic base of mining, timber, tourism, fishing, construction and government - and to create a new industry: exporting power!

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