A bill meant to fix a decades-old surveying error at Swan Lake, Ketchikan’s primary source of electricity, made it through the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week.
HR 219, sponsored by Alaska Rep. Don Young, transfers about 26 acres of U.S. Forest Service land for the Swan Lake Hydroelectric Project.
In an announcement, Young’s office states that the land was surveyed incorrectly in 1994.
Swan Lake is owned by Southeast Alaska Power Agency, and is the primary source of power for Ketchikan Public Utilities electric customers. SEAPA’s CEO Trey Acteson said the error came to light when SEAPA crews were working on the Swan Lake enhancement project.
Through that work, he said, they discovered that in the original survey, “they missed 25.8 acres in a low-grading area. Typically, our project boundary for the Swan Lake reservoir is at the 350-foot elevation contour. So, we discovered it and now we’re trying to correct that.”
H.R. 219 calls for the Secretary of the Interior to re-survey the boundaries of Swan Lake Hydroelectric Project within 18 months, and transfer the acreage to the State of Alaska. A similar measure still needs to pass the Senate.
Acteson said the transfer will reduce or eliminate administrative costs and efforts for SEAPA. The land is needed for lake expansion following a recent project.
“The reservoir expansion project allows us to raise the level of the lake an extra 15 feet,” he said. “When we were looking at that, we were going, ‘We’re going to be bumping up right close to our licensed project perimeter.’ That’s what compelled us to go out and look in the first place.”
The expansion was completed about a year ago, providing more water storage in case of dry weather. Acteson said it has made a difference.
“Just in this first year alone, we only went up six and a half feet on the flashboards, and that resulted in impounding an additional amount of water equivalent to about $1.1 million in diesel generation for KPU,” he said.
During dry and/or very cold weather, hydro generators are turned off, and Ketchikan Public Utilities turns on the backup diesel generators. Those cost a lot more than hydropower.
SEAPA owns two hydroelectric facilities. The second is at Tyee Lake, and that one provides electricity mainly to Wrangell and Petersburg. An intertie allows power to be shared as needed between Swan and Tyee.