Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Rep. Don Young tour Swan Lake fire damage to power lines

Published: Oct. 8, 2019 at 10:58 PM AKDT
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For the past three months, transmission lines heading north from the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Project have been down, impacting how electricity users across Southcentral get their power.

On Tuesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Rep. Don Young toured the area by helicopter, seeing the damage done by the Swan Lake fire and learning what it will take to bring the power back online.

There is a financial incentive to get the repairs completed quickly for roughly half of Alaska’s population. The plant delivers Alaska’s cheapest energy at 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour all the way north to Fairbanks.

Without Bradley Lake operational, natural gas needs to be burned to make up the deficit.

Chugach Electric Association owns a 30% stake in the plant, it estimates customers will see a 3-6% rise in their electricity bills.

Matanuska Electric Association with a 14% stake estimates the plant being offline is costing the cooperative $12,000 per day.

The dam around Bradley Lake is also full, spilling water that could be generated for power. An estimated $2.2 million in opportunity costs has been lost.

The cause of the plant being offline is that dozens of power poles over 12-18 miles near Quartz Creek on the Kenai Peninsula have been impacted by the Swan Lake fire.

Curtis Thayer, the executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority, says crews have still not been on the ground, meaning the assessments have all been done by air.

Repairs are estimated roughly at $1 million dollars per mile and it could be a couple of months or longer before they’re completed.

Thayer says getting on the ground will allow officials to better judge the extent of the damage and the cost.

Dunleavy said the State of Alaska is crunching the numbers and seeing what its role is in fixing the transmission lines. He described the need to get the lines fixed for a plant that delivers 5-10% of the power used by the Railbelt utilities.

“It’s kind of a lifeline for Southcentral Alaska, in terms of energy,” Dunleavy said.

The issue of who might be financially responsible is complicated. The state and federal governments could pick up some of the tab as could the Railbelt utilities that manage the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric facility.

Officials said that some conservation rules at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where the power lines are located, could potentially halt repairs.

“I’m trying to make sure that the federal agencies don’t slow anything down,” said Young after touring the damage.

Ideas are being touted that the lines could be replaced with some that would deliver more energy. Longer-term goals aren’t impeding the need to get the power lines up and operational as soon as possible.

“Right now, we’re in an emergency situation,” Thayer said.

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