Alaska’s state energy authority is preparing to file a preliminary license application with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 600-megawatt hydro project in Watana, on the upper Susitna River north of Anchorage, Gov. Sean Parnell announced June 25.
The Alaska Energy Authority is also recruiting staff for the core project development team, the governor said. Parnell recently signed new state legislation authorizing the project as well as a $67.5 million state appropriation for work on the preliminary FERC license application this year.
The project, expected to cost $4.8 billion, involves a 700-foot-high dam on the Susitna River that would create a 39-mile reservoir with a maximum width of two miles. It would supply about half of the expected electricity demand of the state’s Southcentral and Interior Alaska communities that are connected to a power grid.
Utilities in Southcentral Alaska now generate most of the power needed with natural gas supplemented by hydro power from the 120-megawatt Bradley Lake hydro project near Homer.
In Interior Alaska, utilities generate power with oil and buy wholesale gas-generated power delivered over a long-distance transmission system.
The Watana project could be built and in operation by 2021, offsetting a need to burn 50 million to 70 million cubic feet of gas per day in power generation, Dan Fauske, president of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., told state legislators during a briefing July 25.
AGDC is a state corporation working on an in-state gas line pipeline system.
The state did substantial work on a Susitna River hydro project in the 1980s that was much larger than what is now contemplated, and which was shelved. That project would have involved two dams, an earth-filled dam in Watana, where the current project would be located, and a concrete dam in Devil’s Canyon.
The latest plan involves only the Watana dam.