Sen. Murkowski introduces pair of Alaskan hydroelectric power bills

Lisa Murkowski

Hearings on a pair of bills held by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week could potentially lead to an expansion of hydroelectric power in Alaska.

The two pieces of legislation, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would authorize expansion of the 33.5-MW Terror Lake hydropower plant on Kodiak Island and allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to continue an existing stay on the proposed 9.6-MW Mahoney Creek project near Ketchikan.

"Hydropower is a major part of meeting our energy needs in an affordable, reliable and clean way," Murkowski, who also chairs the committee, said. "That is true nationally and it is certainly true in Alaska."

The first bill, S. 1583, would amend a special-use permit described in Section 1325 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to enable the construction, operation and maintenance of a tunnel, and associated facilities and activities by Terror Lake's developers with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

The project was previously expanded beginning in 2013 after it was purchased by the Kodiak Electric Association from the Southeast Alaska Power Agency in 2009.

Kodiak Electric now says it would like to increase the plant's output capacity by about 25%, opening the doors for community expansion and economic growth.

"Right now, the area around Terror Lake is powered solely by clean, renewable hydropower and a small wind turbine," Murkowski said. "So we’re in kind of an interesting situation. If we can’t allow for the expansion, what we do then is we turn back to expensive diesel fuel instead."

Meanwhile, the second bill, S. 2046, would allow FERC to extend a stay for Mahoney Creek's developers granted by Congress in 2002 to account for completion of the Swan-Tyee transmission intertie.

The new stay -- requested by the Cape Fox Native Corp. of Ketchikan, the City of Saxman, and the Alaska Power and Telephone Co., would give the Southeast Alaska Power Authority time to review additional potential sources of generation to meet the area's power needs through 2025.

Murkowski, whose state receives about a quarter of its electricity from hydropower sources, has been supportive of several hydro-related bills. Most recently, she and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., submitted the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 to the Senate in July that includes a number of measures for both the conventional and marine and hydrokinetics sectors.

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