Susitna dam would generate electricity for Mat-Su

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Plans for a hydroelectric dam on the upper Susitna River have been around for decades, and the latest planned dam is at least 10 years away - if work starts right away.

Last week's approval by Gov. Sean Parnell and the Alaska Energy Authority has been met with mixed reviews, especially in the northern Mat-Su Borough, which would be most affected by construction, the Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.

The dam is supported by the Palmer-based Matanuska Electric Association, which provides electricity for much of the borough.

The dam would produce about the same amount of electricity now being produced by burning natural gas at power plants, said General Manager Joe Griffith. Cook Inlet's big gas fields are old and their output is dwindling, helping push up natural gas prices in recent years.

Griffith compares the Susitna project to Bradley Lake hydro project near Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, where that dam has produced the least expensive electricity on the Railbelt system.

Even though the project is expected to cost some $4.5 billion, "we will save in the long run," Griffith said. "It'll keep costs flat over time."

The financing plan calls for the state to pick up about 50 percent of the construction costs and Railbelt utilities to finance the rest through grants and loans.

Others are skeptical of the project.

"Look how many times we voted to move the capital," said Talkeetna Motel general manager Pam Allman. "And the gas line. It sounds promising, but we study and study, but it seems like nothing gets done."

The dam is projected to be in a remote area known as Watana. It's about 30 miles east of Denali State Park and 50 miles northeast of Talkeetna.

The reservoir the dam would create is expected to be about 2 miles wide and almost 40 miles long.

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