By Jenny Neyman
Forward motion has dried up on Homer Electric Association’s proposed project to install a hydroelectric dam on Grant Lake in the Kenai Mountains until an inflow of grant funds can be secured.
Brad Zubeck, project engineer with HEA, updated the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee on the status of the project Jan. 11 at the Soldotna Sports Center, followed by a similar presentation in Moose Pass on Jan. 13. The presentations were conducted after a joint meeting with the public, involved agencies and Native tribe representatives in Seward on Nov. 12.
State grant funds have been the public money paying for project development to this point, but HEA doesn’t expect to have enough grant funds left to complete work on the next phase of development, which entails completing studies and gathering data on the area to gauge what impact the project might have on fish, water resources, wildlife, plants, historic and cultural sites, and recreational uses of the area.
“We’re bringing our activities to a suspension at this time,” Zubeck said. “We still have grant funds available to us but as we look ahead we don’t have enough to fully implement the studies that we anticipate.”
Cook Inlet Region Inc. and enXco, HEA’s initial partners in Kenai Hydro, the financial organization formed to pursue the hydro projects, announced in October their intention to back out of the venture.
“Our partners took a look at the economics and said, ‘There’s not enough room for us, we have other interests.’ And so they are withdrawing,” Zubeck said.
The project, as described in the Pre-Application Document submitted to the Federal Energy Regulation Committee in Aug. 6, calls for a 4.5-megawatt hydropower plant below Grant Lake with an influx of additional water taken from nearby Falls Creek in the mountains above the Seward Highway near Moose Pass. The area is part of the watershed that feeds the headwaters of the Kenai River.
An intake tower would be built on Falls Creek to draw water into a 2,800-foot-long, 10-foot diameter tunnel penstock emptying into Grant Lake. A dam would be built at the outlet of Grant Lake to increase water storage capacity in the lake. The water would be drawn out of the lake through a steel pipe penstock to a powerhouse with two turbines, then returned to Grant Creek above the section of creek used by anadromous fish, including spawning salmon. The lake lever would vary from 10 feet above the natural elevation to 25 feet below.
“That’s a range of values that we work within for licensing purposes, so if for some reason we change our minds and say, ‘Oh, we would like to take it 15 feet higher,’ we’d have to start back over again with studies and impacts and that sort of thing,” Zubeck said.
Almost 3 ½ miles of access of roads are expected to be built, which may or may not be open to public access, depending on U.S. Forest Service input, he said. Visual impacts from the highway are expected to be minimal.
Initially, Kenai Hydro applied for permits to investigate installing hydro dams on Crescent Lake and Ptarmigan Lake, as well, but surrendered those permits in September.
“Some folks talk about industrializing the whole watershed. That’s not the case. We have one project right now that does look semiviable,” Zubeck said. Continue reading