Homer Electric to conduct hydro studies this summer

Homer Electric Association will begin field work this summer to fully determine if a hydroelectric project on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula will be feasible.

A recent renewable energy grant from the Alaska Energy Authority will spur HEA to award work to crews charged with conducting a battery of tests at Grant Lake near Moose Pass. Crews will look to determine if the body of water would be suitable for producing electricity.

According to the project’s website, the idea, if approved, is to install a dam or other structure at the lake’s outlet to control outflow from the lake, and possibly to create storage capacity. The proposed project would have an intake in Grant Lake, near the point at which it flows into Grant Creek. Water would be conveyed from the intake through a pipeline leading to a powerhouse.

The powerhouse would be located near the bank of Grant Creek and would discharge into Grant Creek.

The Grant Lake watershed, including Grant Creek, is about 44 square miles and the lake has a surface area of about 1,790 acres. Grant Creek, which discharges into Upper Trail Lake, has an average annual flow of 193 cubic feet per second.

According to HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher, Kenai Hydro LLC — an HEA subsidiary — began evaluating four hydroelectric sites including Grant Lake, Falls Creek, Crescent Lake and Ptarmigan Lake. Since then, Kenai Hydro has abandoned consideration of all but Grant Lake due to economic feasibility concerns.

The project is estimated to cost $35 million.

“As studies are completed and more information is obtained, the proposed scope of the project’s features are adjusted from what was initially proposed in 2008,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “A major difference is that current plans call for either a 2-foot-high dam, or no dam, as compared to an initial plan for a 10-foot-tall dam.”

The project is still in its study phase, but HEA expects the project would generate about 20,500 megawatt hours annually, which is about 4.2 percent of HEA’s annual demand based on 2010 statistics. HEA would own the project, but reserve the option to sell power to interested utilities.

Bradley Lake, a state-owned, HEA-operated hydro project located at the head of Kachemak Bay, generates 300,000 megawatt hours annually. Power from Bradley, a larger lake than Grant Lake, is shared among Railbelt utilities with HEA receiving about 44,000 megawatt hours annually. That figure represents about 9.4 percent of HEA’s power needs.

The AEA grant of $1.2 million was received in 2011, as part of the Alaska Energy Authority’s Round IV Renewable Energy Grant Program, and will be used to augment and supplement 2009 and 2010 fieldwork. Crews will study the project’s effects on aquatic, water, cultural, visual and recreational resources.

The aquatic study plan will look at salmon spawning distribution abundance, resident and rearing fish distribution and abundance, aquatic habitat mapping and analyzing critical factors as well as in-stream flow studies and others.

Gallagher said there are not salmon in Grant Lake as a large waterfall acts as an anadromous barrier, but there are salmon in Grant Creek. Effects on those salmon will be studied.

HEA also will examine water quality and temperature, hydrology, botanical and vegetation mapping, survey sensitive and invasive plants, and assess timber resources. Wildlife effects also will be studied including raptor nesting, breeding land and shore birds and surveys of terrestrial mammals. The project also will include cultural use and archaeological field studies.

HEA hopes to file a final Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit in 2014 after field work and other studies are completed.

Utility officials are currently spending time making presentations on the issue to area groups such as the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, the Industry Outlook Forum, the Kenai River Special Management Area Board of Directors, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Cook Inletkeeper and legislators. Meetings will continue this spring with plans to talk to the Kenai Watershed Forum.

Gallagher said the response from those organizations on moving forward with the project’s study phase so far has been “very positive.”

“We still have a lot of study work to do before we have a completion date set,” Gallagher wrote in an email. “It is important to note that a decision to move forward with the project has not been made. The results of the study and the licensing process will determine whether or not it is in the best interests of HEA’s members to move forward with the project.”

11/10/2016 - 6:43pm