Hydro project on schedule but questions remain


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KETCHIKAN (AP) — Contractors are on schedule to complete an expansion of the Whitman Lake hydroelectric project in Ketchikan by July.

It’s been almost 90 years since workers built a dam at Whitman Lake to supply electricity to the New England Fish Co., and Ketchikan Public Utilities hopes the expanded project will provide up to 16 million kilowatt hours of power for the city while displacing up to 1.1 million gallons of diesel fuel.

The Ketchikan Daily News reports officials still must determine how the expansion will mesh with a sales agreement now in place with the Southeast Alaska Power Agency.

The agreement states Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg must buy all available power from the agency’s grid before receiving power from other sources, such as Whitman Lake.

City Councilman Bob Sivertsen, who also sits on the SEAPA board, said Whitman Lake could be used primarily for “diesel avoidance.” In other words, power from Whitman Lake could be used when the SEAPA grid is unable to offer electricity to KPU, and the alternative is burning expensive diesel.

The power agency taking over the project is another option.

The lake also serves as a water source for a local salmon hatchery, limiting the amount of power that can generated. Sivertsen said the project would provide only two or three days of power if it ran continuously as the sole source of KPU power.

Construction started in January and has been steady despite complications ranging from a hunter entering the construction site to workers triggering a landslide that temporarily severed the hatchery water supply.

KPU Senior Project Engineer Jennifer Holstrom recently visited China to check on the turbines expected to be finished in late October and then shipped to Ketchikan by boat.

The turbines should arrive by late December and Holstrom said the plan is to start installing them the following month.

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