Quote of the day: If not hydro, then what?

Below is an interesting comment about the Susitna Hydro dam,  elicited by a report commissioned by Trout Unlimited and written by Juneau economist Gregg Erickson that says the project isn’t economically viable. It’s unclear if Gov. Bill Walker supports continuing to fund the project—which the state has already invested $193 million into, this time around–and for which there’s $20 million in the current Parnell-budget. In August, Walker told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that he would support the project if it stabilized Fairbanks energy costs. But that was before $65 barrel of oil was in sight. In any case, the comment below—which I don’t necessarily endorse–is fairly representative of the complaints I hear about the so-called alternative energy options:

For all the talk of how environmentally unfriendly the Susitna Hydro dam would be, has anyone ever noticed the single hydro feature that provides and protects much of the fish habitat in Bristol Bay and on the Kenai Peninsula, two of the most productive salmon systems in Alaska and the world?

Very large lake systems that have the ability to hold large volumes of water and mitigate harmful flash flood events so common to the Mat-Su.

These extreme flash flood events, besides washing away homes and roads, are very detrimental to fish habitat and egg survival. Large lake systems are rare in the Mat-Su, so you tend to have more common large scale high water events that rearrange rivers, streams and fish habitat – which is not good for salmon production.

But of course anything of human construction such as a large dam in the headwaters of the Susitna would be ipsofacto DOA according to (Trout Unlimited) and other environmentalists.

Why have low cost hydro energy for the next century plus for the railbelt when we can exist and subsist on alternative energy (which in the past 20 years has excommunicated hydro).

We now love, love, love solar (great for Barrow whenever the as yet to be invented Professor MoonBeam moonlight panels come out in 2020) and wind power (which biologically are proving to be bird (usually raptor) killing fields) – both of which are proven to be inefficient and much costlier for large scale, industrial electricity production.

But let’s just make the switch to big Green Electric (who knew that electricity is generated primarily from coal, gas or hydro – Thank you GE-NBC).

Don’t even go towards nuclear – it’s too radioactive – and happily Germans now are learning to love super high electricity rates since they banned their own nuclear power plants after the Fu#!Shi^*a scare affair, which is now acting as a drag on the overall European economy and keeping that enlightened part of the world on its short Russian natural gas leash. But I digress…



11 thoughts on “Quote of the day: If not hydro, then what?

  1. A

    How can we access online the actual report that includes the data on specific variables examined and the results of any statistical analysis? Before any opinions can be formulated shouldn’t everyone understand the data behind the conclusions drawn? The study could very well be valid and accurate WITHIN the terms/parameters of this one specific study, but any study can achieve this however that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is valid, reliable or significant to the real world. What variables were compared? Under what conditions? How did Erickson operationalize “viability”? How was the data analyzed/compared and what were the results? What about the methods? Even if the data was statistically significant is it applicable to the real world? I am confused as to why more people aren’t asking these same questions.

  2. AH HA

    Lynn, you obviously don’t know a lot about Salmon or Salmon Management. Alaska’s King Salmon largely co mingle with King Salmon from all over the Pacific Northwest when in the ocean phase of their lives. In fact has caused a lot of accusations that the Alaska Commercial Troll Fishery has historically been catching a disproportionate amount of fish that should be returning to other area’s to spawn this idea is largely accepted by fish managers and marine biologists through out the Northwest and In recent years Alaska’s troll fishery has been carefully managed to avoid intercepting too many ‘foreign fish’ as far as the issue with failing Alaska King Runs being a mid water intercept that “state and federal governments” have no control over is laughable at best. Since the fish co mingle any impact should be visible in all stocks. And, there are very few mid water fisheries in the gulf of Alaska and the Bering sea that either the state or the federal government do not have the ability to closely observe and in most cases regulate.

    Yes Lynn, Salmon do evolve in specific environments. A fourth grade science student can prove this. However, the upper and lower limits of that environment are a bit larger than you appear willing to admit. A high school marine biology student can prove this. A high School Marine Biology student can also show that while Salmon generally return to the stream system they came from, this is not a one hundred percent truism, they are opportunity spawners and will sometimes take other likely looking streams for little or no discernible reason.

    As to you other points, OK,

    Will a coal plant provide domestic water? Who cares one way or another? It’s immaterial.

    Will a Susanna dam provide flood control? probably. Will it do this better than a coal plant? Certainly. But again, who cares? it’s immaterial.

    Here’s an assumption for you: We had a major earth quake and guess what? the dam did not break… a feat of engineering, the same thing that got us to the moon in 1969.

    Why are we no longer building significant dams to produce power in the lower 48? Hmmmm…… this is a stunner. Perhaps, just perhaps we already dammed the most efficient streams? (I bet you didn’t notice that we aren’t shutting any of those turbines off..)

  3. Lynn Willis

    You have an unique ability to ignore parameters and points that don’t support your argument. For example, did you ever consider open ocean intercept outside the control of the State or Federal Government as a parameter for decreasing Alaskan King Salmon returns? Salmon evolve in specific environments; therefore, your assumption that “science and experience” from the Pacific Northwest have answered all doubts about the environmental issues relating to this project is just that – an assumption.
    Please address the other points of concern I mentioned such as the justification for this dam other than hydroelectric generation (flood control and providing domestic water supply). What about recovery from earthquake damage and now how about addressing why no new dams are consistently being built in the lower 48 if dams are still viable for power generation or why we would not build this particular dam on state land to avoid future land lease and tax costs?
    I am not willing to “assume” that this is a viable project on an economic basis alone and you and I seem to agree on that.

  4. AH HA

    Lynn, As far as what happens to the Salmon after they cross the dam, Gee I don’t know, but somehow for nearly a century now they have been coming and going. The real reason that the fish have been threatened in the Colombia basin is twofold, The biggest reason for the decline of the salmon there was an out of control fishery that did not become well regulated until the run was nearly extinct. Couple that with a system of dams that were built with little or no thought to the passage of fish and you get a threatened run of fish. This has since been corrected through good management of the fishery and corrective action to allow for the fish migration. The stream temperatures you are so concerned about amount to complete horse hockey. All that is required is that an adequate flow be maintained in the stream. the only times that stream temperatures actually get to intolerable levels for salmon is when the water managers get greedy and start to export more power than they should to remote markets. This causes them to tend to retain more water behind the dam for power generation than they should, lowering the flow rate in downstream areas beyond what is tolerable for the fish. Both natural and dammed streams throughout southern British Colombia, Washington Oregon and California have always averaged far high water temperatures than Alaskan streams yet, Salmon have always done fine in these warmer streams. In Fact over the last ten years, the King Salmon returns in Oregon California and Washington have all done better than those in Alaska. The fact is that the fish are not really as sensitive to this as some ‘junk science’ will have you believe.

    The question of whether or not we could build this in an ecologically sound manner is not a mystery. Science and experience answered all the questions you propose many years ago. We can build this in an ecologically sound manner and given the political climate in this country, it will not be built in any other way.

    The real questions are:

    1. What does it cost?

    2. Do we have the money?

    3. What is the result of the cost / benefit analysis? Is it fiscally reasonable?

    Mr. Gregg Erickson who purports to be an economist claims to have offered the answer to these questions. However, Mr. Gregg Erickson has a significant bought and paid for bias, in that he was paid to do this ‘study’ by Trout Unlimited.

    How about we make some sort of attempt to get an unbiased economic study done?

  5. Lynn Willis

    Thank you for your response. You points regarding mitigation of the problems associated with this and other dams (fish ladders and silt control) all require additional spending and don’t produce any additional energy for that expense. And what necessary flood control or domestic water supply will this particular dam provide to justify the cost? (Answer: none). I understand the fish ladder concept. Then what happens to the fish when released into a reservoir when suddenly the orientation of the stream current is lost? Silt control would have to be specific to each project so claiming that is an insignificant cost in this case may be a bit premature. I would also not describe salmon populations as “flourishing” in the Pacific Northwest (especially in the Columbia River Basin) because of “water warming” dams. Also, what is the recovery scenario following a sever earthquake for this dam versus a coal or gas fired plant.
    Alaska has how many hundreds of years of supply of accessible coal yet I understand that neither oil producers not environmentalists will support the use of coal in any application. Of course if this dam is viable then let us build it, however, the facts don’t seem to support that option and all the optimism in the world cannot overcome reality .

  6. erak

    TU is an elitist environmental group. It is a sad commentary that their study is given any more credibility than one funded by the Koch brothers. It would be interesting to know how much Greg Erickson pocketed for being TU’s shill.
    Coal and nukes pencil financially but are bad environmentally; solar and wind are environmentally benign (ignoring component manufacturing and bird morality for wind) but aren’t economical in AK. I am not aware of any hydro plants in the world that are problems from a financial perspective.
    It is unfortunate Susitna Hydro wasn’t built 30 years ago. 30 years from now we will be be grateful if we build it now. There are few salmon upstream and the water event mitigation is probably a net benefit for salmon.

  7. joe blow

    Don’t forget Naknek Electric losing almost $50 million on geothermal power without producing a single KW.

  8. AH HA

    Lynn, you are correct, the abrupt face of dams does hinder the migration of fish. Many decades ago, probably more than a century, some smart guy invented something called a fish ladder to alleviate this problem. Since then the basic designed has been improved on many times and some fascinatingly effective alternatives have also been put to use…Ever Heard of a fish cannon?

    AS far as silting of the reservoir goes, there are many proven methods can be used in a cost effective manner to effectively remove or prevent silting problems. Dams can cause minor temperature changes in down stream portions of the river but it’s been shown that if adequate flow is maintained these changes are so small as to be nearly undetectable. Never mind that salmon have historically flourished in the far warmer rivers and lakes in Washington, Oregon and California.

    As far as having a statewide comprehensive plan for energy use, perhaps one of the first steps in that process is developing the obvious sources? I might add that the reason that Alaskans typically don’t use Hydro for heat is that generally it’s not very available and generally, until very recently even when available the BTU’s provided by Hydro have been costlier than oil. Trust us just a little, we will heat with the cheapest BTU we can buy.

    I have to agree with the writers thoughts on this one, If the hydro capacity can be developed in a cost effective manner when the only viable alternatives are coal, oil or gas then there is no reason not to get it done.

    Note that I did not include Solar or Wind in the mix? That’s because to be honest they are both pipe dreams and even with massive subsidies cannot even come close to being cost effective on any scale. Of course if you can get Trout Unlimited and the various other green lawsuit generators to even discuss placing square miles of solar panels on top of their ‘pristine wilderness’ I’d be willing to talk….but in case you missed it, they won’t talk they will just sue.

    Remember any of these coal projects?

    All Cancelled:

    Alaska Power and Telephone Plant
    Bethel Power Plant
    Kenai Blue Sky Project
    Matanuska Power Plant
    Western Arctic coal project

    Ever heard of any of these ‘Citizen’ groups?

    Sierra Club
    Alaskans for Energy Freedom Campaign
    Cook Inlet keeper
    Castle Mountain Coalition
    Friends of Mat-Su
    MEA Ratepayers Alliance
    Sierra Club Alaska Chapter
    Utility Watch
    UAF Beyond Coal

  9. Lynn Willis

    A reservoir behind a man-made dam designed to generate electricity is not the ecological equivalent of a naturally formed lake. Interesting idea to dig holes in a river bed to create lakes but that is the kind of idea we used to be able to pay for when we had more money than sense.
    Not all salmon species require a lake as do sockeye to complete their life cycles. Also, those turbines in a hydroelectric dam are not “fish friendly”; the abrupt face of a dam blocks migration to fish migrating upstream and natural lakes do not alter water temperatures or collect sediment at the rate of a reservoir which often requires dredging.
    As to supporting a dam for electricity and thinking that is a panacea, please remember most Alaskans do not use electrical energy for space heating nor is electricity used to any extent as a source of energy for mobility. Cheap electrical energy could induce and support local manufacturing; however, that electrical energy would be much more attainable by use of traditional fossil fuel based generation methods. As to revenue from exporting electrical energy to points outside Alaska a quick look at a map would seem to answer that question.
    The fact remains that the state of Alaska does not have a comprehensive energy plan. For example if we decided that the primary source of energy for space heating in Fairbanks will be from electricity, then by all means pursue this source of energy with that market in mind if that benefit justifies the costs. Otherwise Fairbanks might have all the relatively inexpensive electricity they can consume, yet will continue to pay exorbitant prices for stove oil or natural gas (if if ever shows up) not to mention the cost for a gas distribution system plus the conversion of all those home heating systems to burn gas.
    But why should we worry since we should by now have a cadre of trained experts. Perhaps Amanda you could ask some of the legislators who again expended how many BTU’s (again at state expense) to attend yet another ” Energy Conference”? What ideas did they return with to Alaska and will introduce at the upcoming session? Maybe this will be the year we will receive even a minor return on that travel investment……

  10. Keith Bradley

    I bet someone is writing a wonderful summary about how conservation will solve everything. While its very important, the low hanging fruit of which Alaskan companies are pursuing in this area is presently very low . . . if not zero for most of the projects identified by AHFC energy auditing to date. So, yes conservation is important . . . but it is really just a placeholder for a few years after which those darn humans increase in numbers and their confounding energy intensity . . .


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