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Bradley Lake Project expansions likely to benefit ratepayers along the entire Railbelt

The Bradley Lake Dam halts water at Alaska's largest hydroelectric plant, near Kachemak Bay.
The Bradley Lake Dam halts water at Alaska's largest hydroelectric plant, near Kachemak Bay.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 26, 2020 at 8:02 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Tuesday, flips were switched and for the first time, water from the Upper West Fork of Battle Creek was diverted into Bradley Lake. The new water will increase capacity at the Bradley Lake Dam by roughly 10%. Project backers say the result will be a comparable increase in energy production at the hydro-plant nearby. More specifically, this could mean enough new power to add around 5,000 homes to the Railbelt region’s main electrical grid.

Matanuska Electric Association CEO Tony Izzo serves on the Board of Directors for the Bradley Lake Project. He estimates the average cost of one-kilowatt hour is around 20 cents across the Railbelt, but Izzo says energy production at Bradley Lake only costs around 5 cents.

“It’s influencing rates to go down, or at least keeping them steady in the fast of rising costs, and it means less natural gas gets burned. We’re preserving that for the future as well,” Izzo said.

Having an ample supply of energy, from renewable resources, can give utilities leverage when managing more costly power sources like natural gas. The streams created by Battle Glacier’s runoff are also ideal due to the fact that the area is not known as a particularly active spawning ground for salmon. A strategic bypass was put in at the new diversion to ensure that streams below still receive the minimal amount of water flow required to maintain any salmon habitat.

Kirk Warren served in an engineering capacity for the new diversion project and is a member of the Alaska Energy Authority’s executive staff. He says that adding this new stretch of pipeline, less than two miles long, should create benefits for utility customers almost 600 miles away.

“It’s the largest hydroelectric project in the state of Alaska, that provides low-cost energy to ratepayers from Homer all the way to Fairbanks and Golden Valley electric association,” he said.

Theoretically, the hydro-plant at Bradley Lake has the capacity to generate up to 120 megawatts of electricity: roughly the amount of energy needed to power a city the size of Fairbanks. At this time, however, the lines in place between Bradley Lake and the main grid need to be upgraded to handle transmissions of that size. AEA Executive Director Curtis Thayer says making those improvements is the next step on the to-do list.

“This is the first step that I think you’ll see us doing, in continuing to improve Bradley and the whole Railbelt’s system for energy,” he said. “There’s also a line that burned during the Swan Lake Fire last year. We call it the ‘SQ’ line. AEA is in the process of purchasing that and working with the utilities to upgrade that line. That line delivers Bradley Lake power.”

Thayer says AEA’s board has already approved the move to purchase the SQ-line, and he hopes that engineers can be on the ground by this time next year.

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