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Southeast energy projects on the move

The final day of Southeast Conference presentations ended Wednesday with a focus on what is not only a regional, but a statewide concern: energy. More specifically, how to get more power at a reasonable cost.

Considering the amount of water that’s available in Southeast Alaska, hydroelectric power is an obvious topic when energy is discussed in the region, and several hydro projects were detailed. Various speakers also addressed alternative sources of heat, such as wood pellet boilers and heat pumps.

Over approximately the last decade, many businesses and homes in Southeast Alaska converted from oil to electric heat after the price of oil skyrocketed. That boosted demand on the various hydroelectric sources throughout the region, leading to a shortage of water-generated power. When hydro power runs low, utilities must use backup diesel generators, which are much more expensive to operate.

Alaska Energy Authority Executive Director Sarah Fisher-Goad talked Wednesday about energy development projects. She said her office recently received 20 applications from Southeast for renewable energy fund program grants for power projects.

“In Southeast Alaska, that was nine hydro projects, five biomass projects, two geothermal projects, two transmission projects, one solar project – it’s always sunny in Southeast Alaska,” she said. “That one will be an interesting one – and then there’s one project labeled ‘other.’”

The “other” project is Southeast Alaska Power Agency’s application for help with a hydrogen storage project.

Fisher-Goad primarily talked about the Southeast Integrated Resource Plan, which offers guidelines for energy development in the region. Highlights in the plan include recommendations for conservation, hydro development, transmission systems, alternative heating sources and technical assistance.

Heat pumps and biomass conversions are one way to reduce power consumption, and the biomass concept is gaining ground. AEA is sponsoring a wood energy conference in Ketchikan Oct. 9 and 10 to further explore and promote that alternative.

Progress was reported Wednesday on some hydroelectric projects, including a planned intertie between Petersburg and Kake, and the Reynolds Creek hydro project spearheaded by the Haida Energy Authority.

Kake Mayor Henrich Kadake said he first brought the idea of a Kake intertie to Southeast Conference 10 years ago.

“We’re so close now,” he said, clearly pleased with the progress. “We’re probably just a couple three years away from getting the Kake-Petersburg intertie in.”

Kadake said that Kake and Metlakatla have a power sales agreement. Metlakatla still needs to connect to Ketchikan’s system, but once those two interties are up and running, power can travel between the communities.

Southeast Conference Energy Coordinator Robert Venables said the Kake project will cost between $34 and $45 million, depending on the route chosen and whether certain options are included. He said a federal draft Environmental Impact Study is expected this winter, and a decision could be made as early as November 2013.

Haida Energy Authority Chairman Alvin Edenshaw said the Prince of Wales Island Reynolds Creek Project is under construction now, and they’ll probably order a turbine in the next few weeks. He said the nearly $23 million, 5 megawatt project should be completed and online by 2016.

“It is a lot of responsibility here. A lot of things to look at,” he said. “One of the things that’s been brought up, to bring the power down, is we need to build this island back up, to build the load capacity. That’s what it’s going to be all about: The load capacity.”

Conservation and energy efficiency were recurring themes among speakers Wednesday afternoon.  Among them was Chris Rose of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, an Anchorage-based organization that promotes energy conservation.

“The fact is that the fastest and the cheapest way to get a BTU or a kilowatt hour is just to not use it in the first place,” he said. “We really want to focus a lot on the fact that renewable energy is a first fuel. That’s one of the ways that we’re looking at it. The first fuel is the energy you don’t use in the first place.”

Rose said that after the Integrated Resource Plan for Southeast was released, his group decided to help implement the efficiency portion of the plan. They chose three communities to work with: Sitka, Kake and Craig. He said it’s possible for a family to save 30 percent of energy costs through conservation alone, which could mean up to $1,000 per year.

Other energy speakers Wednesday were Tim McLeod of Alaska Electric Light and Power, Letasha McKoy of the Tlingit and Haida Housing Authority Energy Cents program, and Rebecca Garrett of the Alaska Energy Authority’s energy efficiency program.

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