Utilities in Alaska’s most heavily populated core announced on Wednesday that they are investing more than $200 million to upgrade transmission lines, a program that officials said can help prepare for a shift to increased use of renewable energy.
The utilities serve customers in a 700-mile grid that extends from Fairbanks in the north to the Kenai Peninsula in the south. The service area, known as the Railbelt because it lies along the route of the Alaska Railroad, holds about three-quarters of Alaska’s population.
The upgrade will move more energy from the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Plant on the Kenai Peninsula. The biggest hydroelectric plant in the state, Bradley Lake was a $328 million project that started operating in 1991.
“This is the largest thing that the utilities have done on the Railbelt since Bradley, in over 30 years,” Thayer said at the announcement, made at the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference being held in Anchorage.
Utility leaders touted their cooperation on the project. “I think what we have is a unique opportunity that doesn’t come along but every few decades, at best,” Tony Izzo, chief executive of Matanuska Electric Association and the chair of the utilities’ Bradley Lake Project Management Committee, said at the event.
The expansion will improve resiliency, reliability and stability for the entire Railbelt, “not just for today but for decades to come,” said Arthur Miller, acting chief executive officer of Chugach Electric Association, the utility that serves Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. “In addition to that, it’s helping pave the way for additional renewables on the system, which will help facilitate the integration of these alternative technologies as we go forward.”
There will be no additional costs to the state, “and amazingly, there’s no more cost to the ratepayers,” Thayer said.
The project will be funded by payments made by each of the utilities to fulfill obligations of bonds issued to build the Bradley Lake project, officials said. Those bonds were retired last year, but the payments from the utilities are to continue until 2050, providing a source of money for upgrades, officials said.
Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations.
This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.