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Clean energy: If not Grant Lake, then what?

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: January 18, 2012 - 9:31am

Homer Electric Association members like renewable energy. That’s one reason they raised a ruckus over the Healy coal plant deal in 2009. They wanted clean energy from renewable technology instead. Most folks I hear from still do. The Grant Lake/Grant Creek small hydro project is HEA’s first serious effort to provide it.

So why do some HEA members think that’s a terrible idea?

Hydroelectric projects have a well earned reputation for destroying fisheries, wrecking established economies, and even displacing communities. Grant Lake is near Moose Pass and within the Kenai River watershed. Some residents oppose the project, raising questions over potential destructive impacts — locally and to the Kenai River. The Alaska Center for the Environment, Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, and Kenai Watershed Forum have expressed concerns too. Moose Pass critics also object to HEA imposing itself on their community which lies outside the HEA service area. Recent letters to newspapers from two HEA members echoed most of these sentiments.
How does HEA respond?

HEA Directors cite Bradley Lake as proof the Grant Lake hydroelectric project can be developed responsibly. Community meetings were held in Moose Pass to take local input. Project engineers are examining ways to avoid building a dam and minimize road construction. In a September newspaper opinion piece HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke wrote, “If the studies show that there would be a serious impact to the overall health of the Kenai River watershed, HEA will not proceed with the project.” Still, with field studies yet to be completed, HEA submitted a grant request to the Alaska Energy Authority for construction funding.

Is HEA ignoring the real problems associated with hydroelectric projects and dismissing legitimate public concerns? The co-op is supposed to be responsive to members. A lot of you said you wanted renewable energy so they’ve proposed Grant Lake.

Are critics an unreasonable minority whose concerns are based upon myths and misconceptions? The problems associated with hydroelectric power are real and significant. People everywhere have a right and responsibility to be concerned about what happens in their communities and how that might affect the wider world.

Alaskans want energy. No matter how we make energy there will be negative impacts. Grant Lake and Grant Creek aren’t the Columbia River or Bradley Lake. Comparisons with either are not useful. Each hydroelectric project is unique and needs to be evaluated in terms of its potential environmental, social, and economic impacts. Will the intended benefits justify the inevitable costs? Will those most affected reap a fair share of the rewards? Are there better options?
Why should you care about any of this?

If you buy power from HEA you’re part owner. The Directors and management serve at your discretion. As a member/owner you’re responsible for everything our co-op does. Don’t know enough to have an opinion? Why not take time to learn more? Then let your HEA Directors know how you feel.

Mike O’Meara is spokesman for the HEA Members Forum, a growing ad hoc group of approximately 300 Homer Electric Association members who support our rural power cooperative and other “railbelt” utilities in efforts to adopt clean, affordable, and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels.

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