Vol. 17, No. 2 Week of January 08, 2012
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Susitna hydro pre-app goes to FERC

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AEA starts the nearly four-year formal license application process for a major hydroelectric facility at Watana on the Susitna River

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

The Alaska Energy Authority has taken the next step towards the construction of a major hydroelectric power plant at Watana on the upper Susitna River by filing a license pre-application document with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The authority will eventually need a FERC license to build the power plant and put it into operation — the pre-application marks the beginning of the formal licensing process, a process that includes a series of studies into the potential environmental impacts of the hydropower facility.

Project schedule

AEA anticipates completing the required studies and submitting a license application by mid-September 2015. The project plan for the facility also includes site surveys and preliminary engineering work, to be carried out in 2012, with an economic evaluation and financing plan to be developed early in 2013. A final design for the facility should be completed in 2016 and, assuming that a FERC license is forthcoming in 2017, AEA anticipates system construction and startup completing at the end of 2023.

With an installed capacity of 600 megawatts, the facility would represent a major diversification away from the region’s current high level of dependence on natural gas-fueled power stations. The facility would also become a major factor in achieving a state policy that at least 50 percent of Alaska’s electricity should come from renewable energy sources by 2025.

“This is an important day, not only for the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project, but for long-term and stable electrical energy for generations of Alaskans,” said AEA Board Chairman Hugh Short on Dec. 29 when announcing the filing of the pre-application document. “This project is part of a larger energy picture that will serve the entire Railbelt while moving Alaska toward its renewable energy goals.”

700 feet high

The pre-application document says that the design of the Watana dam is still being evaluated, but that the dam would likely stand 700 feet above its foundation, with a crest length of about 2,700 feet, creating a 39-mile long reservoir. The use of roller-compacted concrete is the most likely construction scenario, the document says. The project site is about 90 river-miles northeast of the community of Talkeetna.

Three alternative routes are being considered for access roads to the hydro facility. One alternative would run west from the facility, staying north of the Susitna River, and meeting the Alaska Railroad and the Fairbanks to Anchorage electrical transmission intertie near Chulitna. The second alternative would also run west, but keeping south of the river and meeting the railroad and intertie near Gold Creek. The third alternative would run north from the facility to connect with the Denali Highway, to the south of the Alaska Range.

Power transmission lines connecting the facility with the Fairbanks to Anchorage intertie, and hence to the Alaska Railbelt power grid, would approximately follow one or more access road routes. A transmission line following the route to the north would continue along the route of the Denali Highway, to connect with the intertie at Cantwell on the Parks Highway.

600 megawatts

Although the system design currently envisages an installed capacity of 600 megawatts, using three generators, it is possible that the designed capacity could be increased to 800 megawatts by the time that the final FERC license application is submitted, the pre-application document says. Once the system goes into operation, the topping up and drawing down of the system’s reservoir would be timed to meet Railbelt load following requirements, with peak loads occurring during the winter months. The facility would produce an average of about 250 megawatts of guaranteed power between November and April, but with power output perhaps varying briefly between 100 megawatts and 500 megawatts, the pre-application document says.

Study topics

Likely topics for environmental studies to be conducted in preparation for the FERC license application include impacts on water resources and water quality; impacts on fish distribution and abundance; impacts on wildlife and botanical resources; subsistence resource impacts; recreational land use issues; issues relating to cultural resources; and potential socioeconomic and transportation impacts in the region.

AEA says that it is committed to the development of plans for the protection and enhancement of environmental resources.

To be able to view the planned project site in summer conditions, FERC staff visited the site on Aug. 29 2011 — FERC now plans to hold scoping meetings in March for an assessment of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. That scoping will ultimately lead to the preparation of an environmental impact statement, under NEPA, starting after AEA applies for the FERC license and needing to be completed before FERC can issue the license.

AEA has established a project website at This website acts as a distribution center for key project documents — the schedule for the FERC scoping meetings will be published on the site.

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