October 27, 2011 |

AP&T to Chamber: Schubee Lake poses challenges

As a source of hydro-electricity, Schubee Lake poses a host of construction challenges and would produce only about half as much power as Connelly Lake, Alaska Power and Telephone’s Danny Gonce told a full house at Friday’s chamber of commerce luncheon.

Schubee is located above Long Falls, at 3,300 feet elevation, about nine miles due north of downtown on the east side of Lynn Canal. The local utility is studying Schubee as an alternative to Connelly Lake, a potential project that has raised concerns about fisheries for its location upstream of Chilkoot Lake.

AP&T is at least five years from drawing power from Connelly and won’t make a "build" decision there until it has ruled out Schubee, Gonce said.

The local utility needs another year-round source of hydro power to avoid the costs of supplemental diesel power, now required at times during the winter. The utility faces "several hundred thousands" of dollars to meet new emissions regulations for burning diesel, Gonce said. "We’re coming up against what we’re capable of with hydro power."

Construction at Schubee would require helicopters, as the terrain isn’t suitable for use of a high-line or construction of a road, Gonce said. There’s no beach at the bottom of the slope for a powerhouse and the lake "leaks" at locations other than its outlet, he said.

An alternative to a penstock and powerhouse there is to pump water uphill from Schubee then down Kasidaya Creek, the site of an existing hydro plant, but the benefit of such an operation "isn’t that great compared to the amount of money it would take," Gonce said. "You lose the benefit of the head pressure from the elevation gain. You only gain a little bit of elevation as (water) falls through a creek instead of a penstock."

For Connelly Lake, the utility has started studies of fisheries in the upper Chilkoot and a geotechnical study.

"Next year we’ll be working on the bulk of the (state) grant we did receive and will be looking for more grants to finalize studies and design work on that project. We’ll be doing more fish studies there, and more geotechnical and we’ll be updating stream flow data," Gonce said.

AP&T recently submitted an application into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit to do feasibility and design work at Connelly. Public comments submitted included ones in support and opposition, he said. "We are waiting for a report from them to see how we proceed from here," Gonce said.

The utility is doing stream-flow gauging at Schubee. "We don’t have hard flow data. We have some assumptions and characterizations based on the little bit we know."

A hydro plant at Schubee would generate four to six megawatts of power, compared to 12 megawatts at Connelly, and also would require submarine cable to Kasidaya or to Haines at a cost of between $2 million and $5 million per mile, he said.

Connelly Lake has been "extensively studied" and would utilize about eight miles of an old, logging road to reach the site, a 70-acre lake that would be expanded to 170 acres through construction of dam 60 feet high and up to 575 feet wide.

A 35,000-volt line from a remote power plant there would be buried along the roadway to a junction near the ferry terminal. Extra power from the site could be sold to cruise ships or other industrial customers, Gonce said.

AP&T currently maintains four hydro sites in Lynn Canal including at Goat Lake, Dewey Lakes, and Kasidaya, near Skagway, and a small plant near the ferry terminal.

Gonce said it was too early to speculate on the effect of a new plant on consumer electric bills. "Power production is less than half of what the actual bill is, so the more grant funding we get from federal and state (sources) and different places, it brings the overall cost of the project down. The more sales we have, the more we can spread those costs out."

Public comments about Connelly include concerns about the effect of road-building there on fish habitat. "(People) don’t want fish issues overlooked. We agree."

Commercial fisherman Norman Hughes attended the chamber meeting. He said the Chilkoot sockeye fishery was fragile. "That fishery runs the whole canal. If we don’t get fish at Chilkoot, I don’t get to fish… I’m not willing to trade fish for cheaper rates or less diesel."

Replied Gonce: "We don’t want to lose any fish and we’re going to study hard so we don’t."