Barring any major shocks, construction on a new 138,000-volt electrical transmission line is expected to begin in 2004.
That's the message Dora Gropp, manager of transmission and special projects for the Chugach Electric Association, delivered at a joint meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Resource Development Council and the Support Industry Alliance on Friday.
The project, known as the "southern intertie," has been in the planning stage since the early 1980s. That's when electric utilities began to think about adding a second major transmission line between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. The existing line, which roughly parallels the Seward Highway, is prone to shut-down due to avalanche and weather-related concerns.
Gropp said the plan still has to receive final right-of-way permission and various permits, but the need for a new line is obvious.
"Anyone who lives here or who has driven between Kenai and Anchorage has seen that line and what it is exposed to," she said.
In the mid-90s, Chugach commissioned a study that identified three possible routes for the new line. Chugach originally favored a route that paralleled Enstar's natural gas pipeline through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Following the submission of draft environmental impact studies to various federal agencies, it was determined the refuge route was not an option.
However, a line running beneath Turnagain Arm and along the west side of the Kenai Peninsula was favored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and that's the route Chugach plans to follow.
A new line will add reliability to the existing power grid. Gropp said each time the line fails, it costs the companies -- and ultimately, consumers -- money.
"Economics go to hell in a hand basket," she said.
Since the line which now connects the peninsula with the rest of the grid is prone to failure, a second line greatly would improve efficiency for the six utility companies that operate the grid.
Construction of the line is expected to cost $100 million. Funding for the project will come from the participating utility companies and state sources. The Alaska Legislature already has appropriated a $50 million grant for the project, and Gropp said utilities likely will try to get more from the state.
"I'm pretty sure the utilities will raise their little hands and say, 'Do you have any more?'" she said.
Gropp said the next stage of the project will be to find out which utilities will build and maintain the new line. The six utilities who operate the existing grid -- which supplies 83 percent of the state's electricity -- include Chugach, Municipal Light and Power, Homer Electric Association, Golden Valley Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association and Seward Electrical System.
"The partner utilities need to decide if they want to go ahead," she said. "They need to set a decision date and decide whether to go in or out."
For its part, HEA energetically supports the project. Don Stead, HEA's manager of engineering services, also spoke briefly at the meeting in support of the project.
"HEA is fully supportive of the southern intertie," Stead said. "We view construction of the project as a very positive step."
Construction on the line is expected to take two to three years. According to Gropp, work on the undersea portion of the project likely would rely on specialized Outside contractors, but the remainder of the project -- $50 million worth -- could utilize existing peninsula businesses.
When asked by Jack Brown, the borough's business development manager, if the project could impact the local economy, Gropp was enthusiastic about using local contractors for the work.
"You betcha," she replied. "You have plenty of contractors who know how to do it and can do it."
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