NHA finds Alaska ripe for new hydro development

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell stressed the importance of new hydroelectric development to Alaska, welcoming the National Hydropower Association's Alaska Regional Meeting Aug. 30-31 at the Girdwood resort area of Anchorage.

In remarks to the 200 participants, Parnell said hydropower is important to Alaska's economic and energy needs. The governor highlighted the proposed 600-MW Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project as part of a comprehensive energy package that will spur economic opportunity for Alaskans. Parnell signed legislation recently that allows the $4.5 billion project to proceed on the Susitna River.

"Alaska's roaring rivers can light and heat our homes during the dark winter nights," Parnell said. "... Hydropower will put us far down the path to achieving our goal of 50 percent renewable energy for electricity by 2025."

Hydro industry professionals and state and federal policymakers spent two days at the regional meeting discussing financing, the regulatory process, and public policy that affects new hydro development in Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, labeled as a "misconception" that that there is no further potential for hydropower development in the United States.

"In Alaska, hydro already supplies 24 percent of the state's electricity needs and over 200 promising sites for further hydroelectric development have been identified that have the potential to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of megawatts of power -- Susitna being just the largest and Lake Chakachamna the second largest of those sites," Murkowski told the group.

The 330-MW Lake Chakachamna hydro project, 85 miles west of Anchorage, came in second to Susitna-Watana in a process by the Alaska Energy Authority to find the preferred location for a large dam and hydro project.

Murkowski gave participants an update on legislation she sponsored, the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011. The bill, which was endorsed by a Senate committee April 12, is to advance hydro project deployment, from conduit and small hydro to non-powered dams to pumped storage, by requiring better interagency coordination. It also would authorize funding of competitive grants for increased production and would continue support for research and development.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, a co-sponsor of the Murkowski bill, also addressed the NHA regional meeting, reinforcing the importance of hydropower's low-carbon generation and low costs to the people and environment of Alaska.

"If you want to be serious about renewable energy, hydropower has to be part of the discussion," Begich said. "Nowhere is that more true than Alaska, which holds over a third of our country's untapped hydropower... We can develop fish-friendly hydro sites that lower ratepayers' costs. It's that simple."

NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said attendance of Alaska's major officeholders, and record attendance for the NHA regional meeting, show the hydropower industry remains vibrant.

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