Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell today announced the start of work on a $4.5 billion project to build a 600-megawatt hydroelectric power plant at Watana on the upper Susitna River. Earlier this year the Alaska Legislature passed legislation authorizing the Alaska Energy Authority to pursue the Susitna project. The Legislature also allocated $66 million from the state’s capital budget to fund initial project work.
“It’s one of those moments where we’re drawing a line in the sand and we’re saying we’re at the starting point and we’re moving,” Parnell said in announcing the start of the work program. AEA is in the process of hiring the members of its core project team; the agency is preparing a notice of intent for submission to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and drilling started today at the planned dam site to gather necessary geologic information, he said.
The permitting and FERC licensing of the hydropower system are currently expected to take about six years, with five years of subsequent construction work leading to a startup of the power plant in 2023, Parnell said. However, the state is seeking ways of shortening that timeframe without jeopardizing the quality of the end result, he said.
By feeding electrical power into the Alaska Railbelt power grid in sufficient quantity to meet around 50 percent of the Southcentral Alaska power demand, the state sees the Susitna-Watana hydropower system as a major contributor to achieving a statewide goal of obtaining 50 percent of power from renewable sources by 2025.
AEA has established a website with information about the project at susitna-watanahydro.org
See story in July 31 issue, available online at 11 a.m., Friday, July 29, at www.PetroleumNews.com