Alaska’s Susitna-Watana Hydro will take years to license, build and bring online. The process is clearly mapped out and already well-underway.
This summer, Susitna-Watana Hydro achieved a significant milestone as field teams began implementing some of the 58 studies recently approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Susitna-Watana Hydro will take years to license, build and bring online. The Federal Energy & Regulatory Commission mandates a complex, multi-year process for applying for a hydro license. The Alaska Energy Authority hopes to complete the study phase of the project by the end of 2016 so a license application can be submitted to FERC in 2017. AEA’s goal is to bring Susitna-Watana Hydro online by 2024.
Susitna-Watana Hydro is a large hydro project that would provide long-term stable power for generations of Alaskans. The project will have an installed capacity is 600 megawatts (MW). As proposed, Susitna-Watana Hydro would include construction of a dam, reservoir and related facilities in a remote part of the Susitna River, 184 river miles from Cook Inlet, 87 river miles beyond Talkeetna and 22 to 32 river miles above Devils Canyon which acts as a natural impediment to salmon migration. Transmission lines connecting into the existing Railbelt transmission system and an access road would also be constructed.
In 2010, the Alaska State Legislature adopted a renewable energy goal for Alaska. It calls for generating 50 percent of Alaska’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Today, about 22 percent of the state’s electricity comes from hydro-power.
The State through the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) is the funder of the studies and planning required to advance the project. The approving regulator is the federal government (FERC).
This contrasts with the general approach in Canada where the territorial and provincial governments assign the proponent role to the state-owned energy corporations and the regulatory approval to the utilities Board. A weakness with the Canadian approach with regard to the three northern territories is that these entities are too small to pull off the planning/approval of a major hydro project. They are too small in the sense that a large project costing a few hundred million compares to an existing asset base which is smaller. Additionally, the small rate base would be hard-pressed to absorb the regulatory costs of a large hydro project. Financially, the territorial governments would need Ottawa’s help to finance any large hydro project.