April 5, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 14

Permit sought for Walker Lake hydro

Developer John Floreske Jr. is seeking a preliminary permit for a hydro-electric project at Walker Lake. The plant would generate 3,600 megawatt-hours annually, more than one-tenth of the electricity used annually by Haines and Skagway.

The project, by Floreske’s Southern Energy, Inc., would build two, 15-foot wide, rock-filled dams, 250 feet and 325 feet in length and increase the area of the lake from 160 to 180 acres. The lake lies eight miles west of Wells Bridge and drains into the Little Salmon River.

Public comment on the preliminary permit opened March 15 and continues 60 days. The company says it will spend up to $100,000 on a feasibility analysis of the project, including stream gauging and geotechnical investigations.

The project would be considerably larger than each of Floreske’s two previous projects, roadside hydro plants at 10 Mile Haines Highway and near 4 Mile Lutak Road.

Floreske spokesman Darrell Maple this week would not comment on the project goals, but suggested development would follow the arc of previous projects that were sold to the valley’s two electric utilities. “You have to go off our track record.”

In submitting the permit request to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Maple also asked that the commission “acknowledge” the company’s track record in Haines. “We have a 100 percent history of completing what we start.”

If built today and connected to the local grid, the plant would produce enough power to keep Alaska Power and Telephone from burning diesel during peak demand periods in the winter, said Danny Gonce, power manager for Alaska Power and Telephone, Haines’ phone and electric utility.

If and how long it could fill that gap depends on the time it takes for the project to be built, Gonce said. “Our peaks keep going up.” Demand increases between zero and three percent annually, he said, depending on weather and other factors.

Unlike the Lutak and 10 Mile plants where flows slow significantly in winter, the Walker Lake project could possibly produce consistent flows through cold months, he said.

According to Floreske’s permit application, construction work would include rebuilding nine miles of existing logging roads and building a new, mile-long access road. A penstock two feet in diameter and 2.5 miles long would carry water, mostly underground to a powerhouse adjacent to the Little Salmon.

A buried transmission line would move power from the plant to an Inside Passage Electrical Cooperative line at the intersections of Porcupine Road and Chilkat Lake Road near the Klehini River bridge.

Fish and Game will likely weigh in on the project, as the Little Salmon is a salmon-bearing river. Maple said the firm would identify elements needing to be done with environmental sensitivity and would be working with Fish and Game.

Resident and retired habitat biologist Ben Kirkpatrick said there’s a unique run of sockeye in the Little Salmon but said environmental issues surrounding the project were “probably all doable stuff.”

“It’s certainly good to look at, but the devil’s in the details,” Kirkpatrick said.

While there’s a need for power in the winter, the demand for power at other times of year isn’t as clear, he said.

“I have nothing against the project whatsoever. Hats off to (Floreske) if he’s willing to put his money on the table to make something happen,” Kirkpatrick said.

AP&T power manager Gonce said his company has looked at a hydro site at Walker Lake but was interested in larger potential sources of electricity.

In its application, Southern Energy references a study of Walker Lake in 1988, done for the Alaska Power Authority by Ott Water Engineers, Inc.

Comments can be made on the FERC website. Written comments must include seven copies and can be mailed to Kimberly Bose, Secretary, FERC, 888 First Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20426.

A copy of the application can be seen at “eLibrary” link on FERC’s website, www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/elibrary.asp.