March 29, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 13

Connelly Lake gets 1st permit

Characterizing concerns about the Connelly Lake project as either premature or not applicable, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on March 19 issued Goat Lake Hydro, Inc. a preliminary permit for the proposed hydroelectric project.

Goat Lake Hydro is a subsidiary of electric and phone utility Alaska Power and Telephone. Much of the opposition to the project is based on the proposed dam’s location a few miles upstream of salmon-rich Chilkoot Lake.

The three-year permit gives the utility the right to investigate the feasibility of the project, including potential impacts. It also gives the company a first priority in applying for a project license. It doesn’t allow construction or disturbance of the site and requires progress reports every six months.

The U.S. Department of Interior, National Marine Fisheries Service, Lynn Canal Conservation and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council submitted comments, as did 38 residents. Residents split on the issue, with 20 in support of the project and 18 opposed.

“The concerns raised in the comments are premature at the preliminary stage, in that they address the potential effects of constructing and operating the proposed project. Should the permittee file a license application, these issues will be addressed in the licensing process,” wrote Jennifer Hill, regional chief of hydropower licensing for the agency.

The decision cites studies recommended by the Department of Interior and the Haines Borough, including ones of salmon spawning, rearing and fish passage and ones on effects of dam breaks, and effects of potential electricity sales as a result of the project.

Hill wrote: “The commission has not sought to place all relevant study requirements in preliminary permits. Rather, the studies to be undertaken by a permittee are shaped by the commission’s filing requirements for development applications.”

LCC’s stated concerns included that Goat Lake Hydro didn’t have a work plan of proposed studies, that Goat Lake didn’t have the money to perform the studies, and that it lacked access rights to the site. The agency found those and others not applicable to the issuance of a preliminary permit.

Danny Gonce, manager of power operations for the utility in Haines, described the permit as a “placeholder” that prevents other utilities from laying claim to the same project.

Gonce said this week that fish and water quality studies already are under way by The Shipley Group. Utility engineers are conducting water flow studies, he said.

AP&T is concurrently studying Schubee Lake, a potential water source along Taiya Inlet near Skagway, for hydro potential.

“They’re two parallel projects at this point. They’re both full-steam ahead until one of them gets eliminated,” he said. The utility is working on a preliminary feasibility study of Schubee, he said.

High power demand in winter that causes the utility to burn diesel fuel is among the factors driving the project, AP&T has said. Gonce said this week that diesel was burned a few hours a day for about three weeks so far in the recent winter, with most peak demand coming in January.

Unlike Haines, Skagway has seen an average snowpack this winter, so water levels are about average in Goat Lake, he said. The lake is the source for the hydro plant that provides most of the electric power to Haines and Skagway.