Dam a gateway to cost-effective energy – Fairbanks Daily News

Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014 12:04 am

Dam a gateway to cost-effective energy

By Anne Seneca


FAIRBANKS — With the abundant energy and natural resources available throughout Alaska, it is no wonder Alaskans witnessed its 2014 candidates sparring over energy and resources issues. And while most will likely equate Alaska energy with oil and gas resources first, it’s important to note that Alaska also has other plentiful energy resources. Its many rivers, for instance, offer some of the highest hydroelectric power potential in the nation, while large portions of the Alaska coastline offer significant wind and geothermal energy potential.

Hydroelectric power supplies about one-fifth of the state’s electricity generation, with 49 hydroelectric power plants supplying Alaska communities with electricity. Two additional plants are under construction. But hydropower has the potential to play an even larger role in Alaska energy.

Lately, we have heard much discussion about new forms of renewable energy, including the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam, scheduled to be completed by 2027. The dam, perhaps the biggest renewable-energy project of its kind, is one of many hydroelectric projects in various phases of study or construction throughout the state. The Susitna-Watana dam is a great example of how renewable energy resources can play an integral role in providing stable and low-cost energy to consumers.

Why? The proposed Susitna-Watana project would be a 735‑foot dam, with a 600‑megawatt capacity, expected to supply about half of the Railbelt energy demand, according to Alaska Energy Authority (AEA). To put that in perspective, the proposed project would cover 50 percent of the electricity needed by more than 80 percent of Alaska’s population — providing stable energy costs to Alaskans for more than 100 years.

On top of providing stable energy supplies, Alaskans also will see increased economic activity in the region and new jobs. The project is estimated to bring about 1,000 jobs during the construction phase and 20 full-time jobs to maintain and operate the facility upon completion.

The project is undergoing an environmental study that will assess how it would affect various nearby resources through 2015. However, we already know the Susitna-Watana dam can provide Alaska with new renewable energy resources and supply hardworking Alaskans with consistent and low-cost energy.

Indeed, the harsh winter months, when power use is traditionally high, will serve as a reminder of how important the project is for providing long-term stable power for generations of Alaskans. 

Consumer Energy Alliance-Alaska supports the Susitna-Watana dam project as an important part of Alaska’s energy future. It is a vital aspect of a national “all of the above” energy strategy that we so desperately need. From hydroelectric power to solar, natural gas, oil, coal, wind, nuclear and geothermal, it’s clear that we need it all. By diversifying the state and nation’s energy portfolio through the development of renewable energy sources, we can help to find ways that cost-effectively expand the use and diversity of our energy resources. Not only will it help consumers cut energy costs, but it will also help Alaska to focus on promoting electricity generation in an environmentally and economically beneficial manner.

There is no doubt that Alaska’s natural resources and pristine environment are a great benefit to all Americans. By following an “all of the above” approach — including the support of hydroelectric power -— we can ensure that Alaska energy consumers are able to utilize these benefits effectively for future generations to come.

Anne Seneca is the executive director at Consumer Energy Alliance-Alaska. She lives in Anchorage.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014 12:04 am.

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