Southeast Alaska is blessed with lots of rain and steep topography, making possible hydroelectricity projects that have low impacts on salmon habitat and the environment. There is no region more invested in salmon, as fishing is the largest private sector employer and contributes nearly $1 billion a year into our region's economy. SEACC is committed to watchdogging renewable energy development in the region, while encouraging the developement of responsible projects to address critical needs in our communities.
Southeast Alaska Hydro Projects
The majority of hydroelectric projects in the Southeast Alaska are what are known as lake tap hydro projects. These projects involve tapping (drilling a hole) a high alpine lake and piping the water down a mountain or hillside to a power house. Power houses are situated to be able to return water to the lake's stream as near as possible to the top of the stream's anadromous reach (the areas where salmon can access). This type of hydro project still has impacts on salmon, by changing the temperature, sediment load, and timing of the stream flow, as well as on other species that use these streams and lakes. Overall, however, lake tap hydro projects have fairly low impacts on the environment, especially compared to the types of hydro projects generally found in the rest of the United States. In addition, these projects allow our communities to move away from diesel generated electricity, reducing our dependence on a dirty, expensive and price-volatile fuel source.
SEACC does not support all hydro projects on the Tongass, however. An example of a project we oppose is the Cascade Creek Hydro Project, a 70 megawatt project designed for a speculative export market and not wanted or needed by Southeast communities. The project was proposed in an area that is highly-used by Petersburg residents as well as tour operators in the central Tongass, and the company behind the project failed to properly complete necessary enironmental and economic studies. SEACC, along with concerned residents of Petersburg, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the US Forest Service and Petersburg Electric Light and Power, were able to convince Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Spring 2012 to reject the preliminary permits for the company backing this project. SEACC's comments were cited prominently in their justification.
However, as of January 2013 a word-for-word copy of the former company's proposal has been submitted to FERC under a new company. We will continue to watchdog this process and encourage you to do the same. The FERC docket number is P-14360.
In recent years, SEACC has partnered with the US Forest Service to put on trainings on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process that oversees hydro project development. The trainings have been very well attended by influencial agency, utility, environmental, and fishing industry professionals. Because the growth of renewable energy has been so fast in our region, there is a need to educate ourselves and our collegues on the regulatory process to ensure that the public interest is protected and responsible, smart projects are built to meet critical community needs.
We have also compiled a Overview of FERC Commenting, for quick reference.