Susitna Hydroelectric Project
This mega-project would cost $4.5 billion. We need to make sure this is the best path forward for Alaska's energy future before we commit to this project.
As states around the country are tearing down their dams and celebrating the return of their native salmon populations, Alaska is getting ready to build its very own mega-dam on the Susitna, a significant salmon river. The Susitna River is a vital corridor for anadromous fish, such as Coho and Sockeye salmon, which use the Susitna to access clear water tributaries for spawning.
Massive dams like the proposed Susitna dam always have negative impacts on native fish populations by inundating habitat, changing historic water flows, and warming the water. The Susitna River Chinook and Sockeye salmon populations are already classified as species of "management concern," and thirteen Susitna River salmon spawning tributaries already exceed temperatures for healthy populations.
In 2010, the Alaska Legislature signed into law HB 306, which pledged that the state would obtain 50% of its electrical generation from renewable and alternative energy sources by 2025. Alaska is well on its way to meeting this goal — around 24% of the state’s electricity already comes from renewable and alternative sources. However, despite this impressive number, in 2011 the legislature approved over $66 million in initial funding for the $4.5 billion dam for the Railbelt. It is important to note that the dam would only service communities along the Railbelt and would do nothing to address energy needs in rural areas.
ACE supports truly renewable energy, which by federal definition does not include new large hydro projects. We have many concerns about this project and do not think a mega-hydro project is the solution to the Railbelt’s energy needs. We question whether this is the best way to spend the state's money, whether this is the best solution for Alaska's energy needs, and what else Alaska could get for $4.5 billion.
Click here for a list of our concerns with the Susitna Dam
Do the State’s Justifications Pan Out?
The state asserts that the dam is necessary to combat dwindling gas supplies and rising energy costs in the Railbelt. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t match the rhetoric.
- At current demand, the dam will provide no more than 50% of the electricity annually in the Railbelt.
- Because the dam will only produce electricity, it will not solve our heating needs, which are met by natural gas.
- The dam will reduce natural gas consumption in Railbelt (space heating and electric power) by less than 25%.
Bottom Line: Railbelt utilities will still need natural gas for 75% of total energy need.
The Susitna Dam will be a 600 MW installed capacity dam. This means the dam will have turbines that are capable of producing 600 MW of energy. However, most dams operate at about half of their capacity. Realistically, with the fluctuations in water levels throughout the year, the dam will average around 300 MW of energy output. This will provide around 50% of the Railbelt’s current, not future, electricity demands.
In Alaska, most of our energy needs are for heating our homes, which is met by natural gas. Because the dam will only produce electricity, and very few homes rely on electricity for heat, the dam will have little to no impact on our heating needs and heating bills. Rather, it will drain the state coffers and take away resources needed to find solutions to our dwindling natural gas supplies.
The Bottom Line
The proposed Susitna dam will provide a little less than 25% of the Railbelt’s current total energy needs which includes electricity and heat. $4.5 billion is a big price tag for only a quarter of the needed energy.
Do We Really Need Susitna?
Alaska has a staggering amount of renewable energy potential including geothermal, solar, wind, tidal, and other hydro-kinetic energy. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, Alaska has over 90 percent of the country’s potential tidal and river current energy potential and over 50 percent of the country’s wave energy potential. Emerging technologies may be available in the near future to take advantage of these energy sources. Current geothermal exploration may produce 100 MW of energy and the Fire Island Wind Project is seeking to grow its 11 turbines into a 54 MW wind farm. These two projects alone could provide over half of the Susitna Dam’s projected average of 300 MW without the price tag or the impacts. Additionally, the legislative goal to increase energy efficiency by 15% by 2020 is making significant strides to reduce the total amount of energy the Railbelt needs.
To see current and proposed renewable energy projects throughout the state visit http://alaskarenewableenergy.org/alaskas-resources/projects-in-alaska/
For more information on the dam's impacts and alternatives go to http://susitnadamalternatives.org/
Click here for AEA's Preliminary Application Document