Increasing diesel costs, shortage of hydro storage lead to talk of shift toward biomass to ease Southeast Alaska’s energy demand
This article appeared in the January 27, 2012 issue of The Juneau Empire.
by Amy Condra
Water is abundant in Southeast — it falls freely from the sky throughout the summer and fall, filling rivers and creeks that tumble down our mountains, into the lakes, channels and canals, the bays and straits that wind their way throughout the land. Here, this water has sustained humans for thousands of years, providing fish, fur and a means to navigate the region.
And for more than a century it has generated power for homes, offices and industries.
Southeast has a significant number of hydroelectric power projects, and these plants have been a reliable and relatively inexpensive source of locally produced, renewable energy for many of our communities.
But according to a draft of the recently released Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Plan, while Southeast might have plenty of water to generate hydroelectricity, it is running short of ways to store it.
“We are storage-challenged,” said Dave Carlson, CEO of Southeast Alaska Power Agency and a member of the Advisory Work Group that assisted with the SEIRP. “(The draft plan) identified the problems we know of here, that we had more than a sense were coming. The winter time heating loads have just been skyrocketing.”
Why? Because as heating oil costs have risen dramatically over the past few years, Carlson said, “people have felt it in their pocketbooks, and have decided it’s cheaper to heat with electricity than with oil. It’s a dilemma.”
A closer look at Southeast’s energy use
“I think it’s a fair statement that the energy picture is evolving very fast for everyone in Alaska — and particularly in Southeast Alaska — due to the price of heating oil,” James Strandberg, Project Manager for Alaska Energy Authority, said.
The SEIRP was prepared for AEA by Black and Veatch Corporation, a worldwide engineering firm specializing in power production and transmission, and was funded by a legislative appropriation with additional funding by AEA. The intent of the SEIRP is to chart a regional energy strategy for the next 50 years.