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Alaska’s Susitna-Watana Hydro project

December 18, 2012

The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) submitted its Revised Study Plan (RSP) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the mammoth Susitna-Watana Hydro project. 

The Alaska Energy Authority seeks approval to build the proposed 600-MW Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project on Alaska’s upper Susitna River. A 34-day comment period ends Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, FERC will then issue a Study Plan Determination on Feb. 1, 2013.

Susitna-Watana Hydro was considered in the past, including an extensive study phase in the 1980s. The project was shelved because of the availability and low cost of traditional energy sources. In 2010 the state authorized AEA to pursue Susitna-Watana Hydro as part of its long-term energy policy. The AEA submitted its Revised Study Plan outlining 58 environmental studies over the next two years. The project would be the 15th largest in the US by discharge.

The proposed site is 184 river miles upstream from the mouth of the Susitna River, and upstream of the powerful hydraulics of Devil’s Canyon.

The project carries a price tag of $4.76 billion. An independent auditor is reviewing the latest cost projection, which includes preconstruction activities including licensing costs of $342 million.

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.


The size and price tag of this hydro project is similar to Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask project (cost $5.6 B, for 695 MW).  The price is high for the hydro energy, but is renewable.

Strategically, I wonder if the State of Alaska has thought out this project in the context of its overall energy plan. For example, the State would like to have a gas pipeline built so as to be able to export North Slope natural gas. If a pipeline brought gas down would this not just make it cheaper to use it as a power source, instead of expensive hydro ?