A new round of federal funding should advance hydroelectric projects in Hydaburg, Hollis and Gustavus, along with Southeast ethanol research.
A federal energy and water appropriations bill includes money to tie Hydaburg and Hollis into hydroelectric power and planning funds for a hydroelectric plant in Gustavus, according to Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' office. The House and Senate passed the bill last week and sent it to the president for final consideration.
On Prince of Wales Island, Alaska Power and Telephone plans to use a $3 million appropriation to run power lines from the Black Bear Lake hydroelectric plant outside of Klawock to Hollis and Hydaburg, according to executive vice president Howard Garner. The utility recently finished a similar project connecting Thorne Bay and Kasaan to Black Bear Lake. Hydaburg and Hollis rely on diesel fuel for power.
"It's using a local resource to create energy as opposed to using fossil fuel," he said. "In the long run, it provides a more stable pricing of electricity."
The utility hopes to complete the project within the next couple of years, he said. While AP&T expects rates to be about the same, ratepayers could see a 1 to 2 percent reduction in price, Garner said. Juneau's Alaska Electric Light and Power is a part owner of AP&T, he said.
Hydroelectric power may make it easier to reopen Hydaburg's cold storage plant, which has been shut down for the past eight or 10 years, according to Hydaburg Mayor Wes Morrison.
"It gets us off our diesel generator and hopefully it will have an impact in bringing our power costs down," he said.
Hydaburg-based Haida Corp. is working on plans to build a 5 megawatt hydroelectric plant at Reynolds Creek outside of town, according to CEO Russ Weller. "Assuming there's some kind of intertie, that might be one of the pieces of the puzzle," he said.
The appropriations bill also includes $400,000 to plan construction of a hydroelectric plant in Gustavus. The Gustavus Electric Company hopes to build a $4.1 million facility at Falls Creek in Glacier Bay National Park and has submitted a license application to FERC, according to president Richard Levitt. The community now relies on diesel for power.
The utility began working on the project three years ago, Levitt said.
"A lot of work has been done and there's still more to do," he said. "A preliminary draft environmental assessment was submitted a few weeks ago. There's still work to be done with Fish and Game, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, among others."
The bill appropriates $2 million to the Southeast Biomass Ethanol Project. A cooperative effort of the Southeast timber industry, the Alaska Energy Authority, the U.S. Department of Energy and Sealaska, researchers have been looking at the feasibility of turning wood waste to ethanol. The latest round of funding would be used to develop design, engineering and cost estimates, according to Ross Soboleff, Sealaska vice president of corporate communications.
While the conversion of wood waste to ethanol has been shown to be technically feasible at the "test tube and beaker" stage, Soboleff said the next step is to see if a commercial operation will work in Southeast Alaska. While Ketchikan's Ward Cove has been discussed as a possible location for a plant, it doesn't mean Sealaska is going into the ethanol business, he added.
"We hope to take it to the point of technical and financial feasibility that someone would take it up," he said.
The appropriations bill includes $3 million for the Swan Lake-Lake Tyee electric intertie. The 57-mile, $77 million project will connect Ketchikan's Swan Lake hydroproject with the Lake Tyee power plant in Wrangell and is the first leg of a proposed Southeast-wide power grid. The U.S. Forest Service granted a special-use permit for construction in September. Another $2.5 million for clearing the right-of-way was included in an interior appropriations bill this fall.
Both the intertie and a proposed ethanol plant have been under scrutiny by Southeast environmental groups.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.