Kenai power line backers say avalanches prove need for intertie

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Six electric utilities hoping to build a new powerline from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula are pointing to Southcentral Alaska's recent avalanches to help make their case.

A February report, prepared by Power Engineers Inc., said this winter's slides damaged more than a dozen transmission towers around Bird Flats, Kern Creek and Summit Lake. The avalanches stopped the transfer of power between Kenai and Anchorage.

The utilities want to put the new powerline through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Because of the cost and the potential effect on wildlife, environmental groups and the Alaska Public Interest Research Groups oppose the intertie.

The utility companies, including Chugach Electric Association and Municipal Light & Power, say a new line is needed to increase capacity and reliability. In addition to avoiding some slide zones, it would allow them to use less-expensive hydroelectric power from the Bradley Lake plant near Homer.

''We need that transmission line in place,'' said Phil Steyer, spokesman for Chugach Electric, the company managing the project.

Chugach Electric will meet Thursday with federal and state agencies as part of an environmental review. Construction could start as soon as 2002, according to Dora Gropp, Chugach project manager.

Jim Sykes, executive director of AkPIRG, said the avalanche argument falls short. Even with the new powerline built, the utility companies would still use the existing line to get power to most of the communities recently isolated by avalanches.

Steyer said that's true, but points out that the main power connection between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula is still cut because of damaged towers around Summit Lake. The proposed new powerline would bypass that area, he said.

Building a second powerline between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula has been on the drawing board for at least two decades. But the pro0222300ala004ject has recently gained momentum.

The utilities have narrowed the possible routes to two. One follows the Tesoro pipeline from the Nikiski area north of Kenai along the coast to Point Possession and then underground across Turnagain Arm to Point Woronzof. That route is 61 miles long and would cost $100 million.

The second route -- preferred by the utilities -- crosses into the refuge and follows the Enstar pipeline route, crossing Turnagain Arm near the Chickaloon Flats. It would cost about $90 million, Gropp said.

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