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Hydro project planners submit environmental plans

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm •  Published: December 18, 2012

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska energy planners have taken a step toward licensing for the country's second tallest dam by submitting a two-year plan for environmental work to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Alaska Energy Authority on Friday formally submitted its Revised Study Plan outlining 58 environmental studies over the next two years for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, a proposed 750-foot dam and accompanying power-producing facility on the Susitna River, the nation's 15th largest by discharge.

At a height of 750 feet, Susitna-Watana would be second only to the 770-foot Oroville Dam in California. It would create a 41-mile reservoir up to two miles wide.

The project carries a price tag of $4.76 billion, up from $4.3 billion estimated in February when a 700-foot dam was envisioned, said AEA public outreach liaison Emily Ford. It would be the largest state construction project in history.

"The collaboration that has gone into developing this study plan is monumental — a lot of different agencies and stakeholders," Ford said. "Everyone's really worked hard to develop a study plan that helps to balance the need to for long-term power and also environmental concerns."

Gov. Sean Parnell last week hailed submission of the plan as a milestone toward building the project that supporters say would provide clean energy and stable rates for more than 100 years.

At a maximum of 600 megawatts, the project could provide more than half of the electrical demand for Alaska's Railbelt, the area from Fairbanks to the Kenai Peninsula touched by Alaska Railroad tracks representing 65 percent of the state population.

Parnell's proposed fiscal year 2014 budget includes $95 million for Susitna-Watana environmental field work, geotechnical investigations and engineering design.

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