JUNEAU — The Alaska Energy Authority has requested more time to give federal regulators a progress report on the massive proposed Susitna-Watana dam project, citing funding concerns.
Authority spokeswoman Emily Ford said Tuesday that the $10 million proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell for next year’s budget is not enough to complete the work AEA had hoped to perform this year. AEA had wanted $110 million to complete its initial study report and prepare its license application for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the upcoming fiscal year.
While the Legislature might provide more funding, Ford said AEA will have to reprioritize its project plans based on available funds and Parnell’s budget proposal. The new legislative session begins later this month and is scheduled to end in April.
Parnell told reporters last month he wanted to see greater progress on land access agreements. Without major progress on those agreements, he said he wouldn’t be able to ask the Legislature for the kind of money AEA wants.
Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said by email Monday that there is sufficient funding available for AEA to advance the licensing effort while the land access issues are negotiated.
Ford said progress on the agreements may be slower than some expected, but progress is being made.
Village corporation landowners plan to meet perhaps as early as this week to work on ironing out details, though the process could take some time to complete, said Debra Call, a spokeswoman for Tyonek Native Corp., one of the landowner interests. She also said she believed progress was being made. Call said she spoke for Tyonek alone, not the other village corporations involved.
AEA faces a Feb. 3 deadline to file with FERC an initial study report, which Ford described as a progress report. AEA has proposed filing a draft by then and a final report in June. If that timeline slips, the timeline for making an application would slip, too, from the end of 2015 to 2016, Ford said.
Project manager Wayne Dyok, in a letter to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose, said the state, through AEA, “remains fully committed to the timely licensing and development of the project.” He said more than $170 million has been appropriated for the project so far.
The extension would benefit the process by allowing additional time to analyze data gleaned in studies during the 2013 field season and to work on plans for completing licensing studies next year, Dyok said.
A critic of the project, the Susitna River Coalition, in a statement last month cast Parnell’s budget request as a “positive signal that the administration is placing a priority on better Railbelt energy sources.”
The coalition is worried about the impact the dam could have on fisheries, among other things, and says a natural gas pipeline — which the state is also pursuing — would better help address energy concerns in the Railbelt region, Alaska’s most populous area.
AEA, on its project website, said the Susitna-Watana dam will generate half the Railbelt’s electricity once it comes online and “provide long-term stable power for generations of Alaskans.” Current plans call for a 735-foot dam built into the Susitna River Canyon and a reservoir that would stretch more than 40 miles. The cost estimate is about $5.2 billion, according to the site, though it isn’t clear yet how the project might be financed.