ANCHORAGE -- President Clinton signed legislation Tuesday authorizing construction of an electrical transmission intertie through Southeast Alaska.
U.S. Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens introduced the legislation to help organize a power grid on Alaska's Panhandle.
Murkowski said communities in Southeast intend to form a state-charted regional power authority to finance and manage the intertie similar to how projects in central Arizona and central Utah were financed and built.
The legislation authorizes up to $384 million in federal funding to build the system. That's about 80 percent of the last cost estimate for a complete regional power intertie, Murkowski said.
Authorization depends upon the U.S. Forest Service completing an electric study, which is scheduled to occur no later than Feb. 1.
''There is no question that a cheaper, more reliable way to distribute power in the Panhandle is vital for the region's future,'' Murkowski said.
But Aurah Landau, a grass-roots organizer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said an intertie would carve right of way and possibly roads through Tongass wild lands.
She said a cost-benefit analysis and a feasibility study would show whether an intertie could lower electric rates.
''Murkowski has no real proof that the intertie will bring the cheap power he's touting here,'' she said.
Landau said the senator should be looking at other ways to reduce power costs.
''He would be better off pushing local alternative power projects,'' she said, such as small hydroelectric, tidal power or wind power projects.
The intertie is a five-phase proposal that calls first on tying the Swan Lake and Tyee hydroelectric projects in Ketchikan and Wrangell and sending excess power from Wrangell to Ketchikan.
Later phases involve sending power to Metlakatla, then connecting Sitka and Kake to the Ketchikan system; extending the lines north to tie into Juneau's power supplies; providing power to Angoon, Tenakee Springs and Hoonah; and extending power to Skagway and Haines and eventually to the rest of Prince of Wales Island.
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