Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 5:19 PM on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Environmental, economic studies will determine hydro project's feasibility

Point of view

Homer Electric Association has a goal to generate 22 percent of its power through renewable energy by the end of 2018. On the Kenai Peninsula, HEA has identified wind, tidal and small hydro as the primary resources available to achieve that target. Each of these resources has a set of unique challenges that will require time and effort to resolve, including the Grant Lake Hydro Project.

Recently, a few Letters to the Editor were critical of HEA for pursuing the Grant Lake Project, located near Moose Pass. While it's obvious that everyone has a right to their opinion regarding the project, it's also important to make sure that the information being cited is accurate.

Currently, the Grant Lake Project is undergoing a rigorous federally mandated process to ensure that all issues are addressed before a license to construct the project is granted. To infer that the project is not being thoroughly scrutinized and studied is incorrect.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is tasked with coordinating the licensing procedure for the hydroelectric project. The FERC process is comprehensive and requires the applicant to carry out a multitude of studies to address a variety of issues before a draft license application can be submitted.

In 2009 and 2010 HEA contracted expert consultants, including fisheries biologists, recreational specialists and resource managers to carry out field studies on the potential impacts of the Grant Lake Project.

The studies focused on several aspects of the project, including many that were brought up in public meetings. The topics include aquatic resources such as salmon spawning distribution, fish distribution and abundance, aquatic habitat and in-stream flow.

Wildlife topics include studies on breeding bird surveys, water bird surveys and goshawk surveys. There also will be continued work in areas of wildlife resources, botanical resources, recreation and visual resources, and cultural resources. Additional information on these studies and the project in general can be found at www.kenaihydro.com.

In 2012 HEA will be conducting additional studies to further evaluate the project. Additionally, as a result of the first round of studies and comments received, changes were made to our future study plans and to the conceptual design of the project. The design features will continue to be refined and modified as more information becomes available.

Homer Electric was fortunate to receive grant money from the State of Alaska to continue the needed field studies in 2012. The grants were received through the Alaska Energy Authority's Renewable Energy Grant Program. This program receives hundreds of applications from around the state and the award process is competitive. After a review by the AEA staff, the Grant Lake Project was placed in the first tier of projects slated for funding. The AEA has never criticized the Grant Lake Project and continues to support the project through its grant program.

The results of the next round of field studies should be available for FERC and public review in the summer of 2013. At that time, HEA plans to submit a draft license application for the Grant Lake Project that will include the final details of the project.

We believe that is the proper time to weigh in with either support or opposition to the project. It's important to have all the information in hand before making a decision and currently there are still many unanswered questions about the project. To oppose the project outright, before studies have been completed and a final design of the project has been determined, is short sighted.

No one, including HEA, would want to put the Kenai River or its tributaries at risk. If the studies show that there would be a serious impact to the overall health of the Kenai River watershed, HEA will not proceed with the project.

In addition, there will be extensive federal and state agency review of the studies and the draft license application. If the project presents unacceptable risks, we are confident the agencies will bring that to FERC's attention.

HEA's goal is to find a source of renewable energy on the Kenai Peninsula and reduce the dependence on fossil fuel power generation.

Grant Lake may or may not be the answer, but let's at least give the project a chance to stand or fall on its own merits.

Brad Janorschke is the general manager of Homer Electric Association.