Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Borough looks at own Connelly hydro permit


The Haines Borough is looking into filing for a preliminary permit for the Connelly Lake hydroelectric project, recently dropped by private company Alaska Power and Telephone.

Mayor Stephanie Scott said she asked assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck to investigate the procedures and costs that would be associated with the borough getting involved with the Connelly Lake project.

 Culbeck said in an interview Tuesday he will be “looking into what is happening with Connelly Lake, who would have access to the power that is up there, and if the borough would be interested in it.”

He added he hasn’t “given this a tremendous amount of thought yet” and that he is “still in the early phases of figuring things out.”

Scott said the idea sprang from a meeting last week with Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell. Borough staff and Parnell discussed the municipality of Skagway’s pursuit of the West Creek hydro project and the potential intertie with Canada, which prompted Culbeck to start thinking about how Haines could get involved.

“(Culbeck) asked the governor – because (Culbeck) is birddogging this thing – if there was any movement with being able to work with Canada to include them in our power grid for Southeast Alaska,” Scott said.

“The governor led me to believe that somebody in his office is attuned to this and they are working that angle, so that’s possible. It seems daunting to me, because basically it’s an international situation... To work with Canada would be a big deal, way beyond the capacity of the little borough,” she added.

Canada’s inclusion in the grid would be potentially game-changing for a project like Connelly Lake, which would produce significantly more power than is currently needed by Haines and Skagway. With Canadian power customers, the project would become more economically feasible.

“Our problem is load,” Scott said. “The reason Connelly Lake couldn’t pan out economically (for AP&T) is because there aren’t enough customers to justify the cost. Well, that is going to be the case regardless of who develops the power source.”

Energy coordinator for Southeast Conference Robert Venables said the borough’s exploration of involvement is fine, but warned that getting and maintaining a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is expensive.  

“AP&T surrendered their FERC license because they are very, very costly... It’s hundreds of thousands to maintain,” Venables said. “It did not appear to them that it was going to be economical for the construction, and spending the continued amounts of money on the license seemed costly to the company and the ratepayers.”

Venables said even if the borough does take the lead on the Connelly project, it would have to partner with AP&T to make it feasible.

“That’s a huge project. You have to partner with the local utilities to make it work,” he said.

It would be “premature” for the borough to invest that significantly in the project before conducting a feasibility study, Venables said.

As part of its grant funding from the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), AP&T is required to provide a feasibility study for the project, even though the company surrendered its preliminary permit.

“That report will be available to the borough, and based on those findings, they could make a prudent decision on whether to proceed with or without the utility,” Venables said.

He said the AEA and the public need to continue pushing for AP&T to finish and release the feasibility study, as it was financed with public money. “I’m told it’s still being worked on, but I think we need to keep our request for that on the front burner so we get it sooner rather than later.”

AP&T president Bob Grimm did not return calls by press time Wednesday.

Scott reiterated the borough is only looking into its options and the procedures for filing for a preliminary permit, but isn’t at all committed to following through.

“All that (Culbeck) is legitimately authorized to do, I think, is to tell us what would be involved if we cared to do this. That’s all, so that the assembly can make an informed decision. If it would require an enormous expenditure of funds, you know we’re not going to do it,” she said.

Culbeck said he will present his findings to the assembly, which will have the final say on how to proceed. “If they want to put more energy into it, they can direct the manager to do that.”

According to AP&T’s plans, the Connelly Lake project proposed a 200-foot wide, 50-foot high and 625-foot long rockfill dam, creating 7,000 acre-feet of lake storage, an approximately 6,000-foot penstock, and a powerhouse with capacity to generate an estimated six megawatts year-round electrical power and 12 megawatts during the summer months.