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Alaska’s dam big energy project

April 03, 2012

In 2011 Alaskan Governor Sean Parnell said that the state is recruiting its Susitna-Watana hydro project team and he expects first power from the major hydropower system on the Susitna River by 2023. The project would be located about half way between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Its reservoir would be 39 miles long and 2 miles wide.

Licensing the project is expected to take six years. Construction will take five years. The governor also announced that the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) is preparing to file the preliminary FERC application. AEA and the Mat-Su Borough are doing detailed mapping of the project site, and the Department of Fish and Game is performing fish surveys in the region.

The Susitna-Watana project requires building a 700-foot-high dam on the river at the Watana site. The dam would create a 39 mile-long reservoir with a maximum width of two miles. Energy would be generated using the glacial waters of the upper Susitna River, and transmitted north to the interior and south to south central Alaska along new and existing transmission lines. The project will have an installed capacity of 600 MW and will supply half of the Railbelt’s current energy needs at a stable or declining rate for the project life of more than 100 years.

The capital cost of the dam is estimated at $4.3 billion. The FERC licensing process will take until 2017 at least. The State had expended about $145 million in field studies in the 1980’s that were shelved. Construction could start in 2018 at the earliest.


The Susitna dam project carries with it drawbacks like alienating vast tracks of land (more than 70 sq.miles), habitat damage, impacts on wildlife and risks of a dam rupture (so near an earthquake zone.) As well, Alaska is blessed with huge natural gas reserves which may make more sense to use as an energy source.