FERC grants schedule reprieve to Alaska's 600-MW Susitna-Watana hydroelectric plant

Susitna River

Receiving assurances that the Alaska Energy Authority will meet certain milestones, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has modified an earlier decision that would have delayed by a year or more AEA's 600-MW Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project on Alaska's upper Susitna River.

FERC staff ruled Dec. 31 that AEA's revised study plan for the project lacked sufficient detail about 13 of Susitna-Watana's 58 proposed environmental impact studies. As the start of the FERC licensing process, the plan proposes 58 individual studies of the proposed dam site and surrounding area, 184 miles up the Susitna River above Devils Canyon.

Lacking that sufficient detail, FERC had revised the schedule for the 13 studies, delaying its plan to issue FERC "study plan determinations" (SPD) to May 14 from the original date of Feb. 1. The SPD deadline for the other 45 studies remains Feb. 1.

AEA protested in a Jan. 7 letter. The applicant said the delay could set back the licensing of Susitna-Watana (No. 14241) by years and cost as much as $143 million.

"AEA contends that the revised study plan contains sufficient detail for the commission staff to complete the SPD for all 58 studies, and the revised schedule would cause AEA to miss the entire 2013 field season for the 13 studies," FERC noted.

In a counter-proposal, AEA asked FERC to modify the schedule so that FERC could issue study plan determinations for the 13 studies by April 1, rather than May 14. AEA said that would give it a sufficient head start to complete all of the studies in the 2013 field season.

In order to meet that schedule, AEA pledged to:

  • provide results of its 2012 open-water flow routing model and habitat mapping efforts, draft implementation plans, and proposed focus areas for the middle and lower river by Jan. 31;
  • hold stakeholder meetings to discuss the Jan. 31 items on Feb. 14 and 15; and
  • file final implementation plans and focus areas by March 1.

FERC agreed.

"Subject to AEA providing the above information and holding the meetings as proposed, the SPD is now scheduled to be issued by April 1, 2013," the commission said Jan. 17. "If AEA is unable to meet its proposed filing schedule, the SPD schedule will be adjusted accordingly."

The decision will allow AEA to apply for a FERC license for construction in 2015 according to the project's original timeline. Assuming AEA's plan progresses as hoped, the authority said the project could be online by 2024.

AEA took bids in 2012 for an independent construction cost estimate for the project. Susitna-Watana includes a concrete gravity or rockfill dam of from 700 to 800 feet tall and a crest length of at least 2,700 feet. It would create a 39-mile-long reservoir 90 river-miles northeast of Talkeetna, Alaska.

Based on ongoing feasibility studies, the project's capacity could be as large as 800 MW. Power is to be transmitted north to the interior and south to south-central Alaska along new and existing transmission lines.

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