Power lines connecting Juneau to Hoonah and Petersburg to Kake are next on the list of priorities for regional leaders trying to offer cheaper electricity.
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The Southeast Conference's intertie committee last month scheduled the connections for more study. The organization represents business and municipal interests; its committee is charged with creating a regional electric intertie.
"The committee unanimously felt that two segments appear to make a lot of economic sense," said Dave Carlson, a Petersburg resident and intertie coordinator for the Southeast Conference. "One is from Juneau to Hawk Inlet on to Hoonah. The other is from Petersburg to Kake."
A regional intertie has been on the wish list of Southeast communities for years because it could reduce reliance on expensive diesel fuel, decrease electric rates and spur economic development, Carlson said.
Funding for the first intertie section - a link connecting Swan Lake near Ketchikan with Lake Tyee near Wrangell and Petersburg - is nearly secure and construction should begin next year, he said. Workers started clearing trees this summer. Funding for the 57-mile, $78 million line has come from state and federal sources.
With that project well beyond the planning stage, the intertie committee wants to keep moving, Carlson said. Congress authorized future expenditures of up to $384 million for a Southeast Alaska electric grid two years ago, and the Southeast Conference secured a state grant for planning last year.
The goal now is to complete engineering and feasibility studies for the next two segments by March 15, he said. Hoonah and Kake were selected because they are fairly large communities, burn diesel and have power rates ranging from 30 cents to 35 cents a kilowatt-hour, Carlson said.
"The only thing that's needed to hook up is an interconnection," he said.
The intertie committee also wants more study of the entire electric grid. The U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development program agreed to provide $100,000 in funding, and the analysis should be complete by May 15, Carlson said.
"There are parts of the intertie that probably aren't economic and we hope to identify them," he said.
In Juneau, a line connecting North Douglas to Hawk Inlet on Admiralty Island and then to Hoonah has been discussed for several years, said David Stone, vice president and director of consumer affairs for Alaska Electric Light and Power, the private company that provides electricity in Juneau. The link would cost about $30 million, he said.
"We've done a fair amount of work on it and have some fairly detailed cost estimates," he said. "We already have a line at North Douglas - that would be the jumping-off point. We'd go to a submarine cable from that point."
AEL&P has enough hydropower to serve Juneau customers now, but expects to start building a new hydroelectric facility at Lake Dorothy near Taku Inlet late next year, Stone said. The line to Hoonah would go to an ore-transfer facility and camp at Hawk Inlet on Admiralty Island, he said. It would not connect to the Greens Creek Mine, which generates all of its electricity by burning diesel.
"From a long-term point of view, it makes sense that we all be interconnected," he said. "It's not going to happen immediately and it will require money from the federal government to build this."
While Hoonah residents would see cost savings by connecting to neighboring hydroelectric power, the intertie also could help Juneau, where electricity costs 9 cents a kilowatt-hour on average, he said.
"Every kilowatt-hour we sell from hydro helps reduce the cost of hydro projects," Stone said.
The Tlingit-Haida Regional Electrical Authority, which supplies power to Kake and Hoonah, also supports the intertie committee's plans, said General Manager Vern Rauscher. Both communities rely on diesel power, he said.
"Certainly if we can lower our production costs, that's going to be passed on to the customer," he said.
A link from Petersburg and Lake Tyee to Kake is estimated to cost about $20 million. A couple of different routes are on the table, he said.
"Part of the next study is to determine a more accurate, realistic view in today's dollars for that line," Rauscher said.
Carlson, the Southeast Conference's intertie coordinator, said members are discussing the creation of a legal entity that would own and operate the intertie. The intertie committee meets again in Juneau in January.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.