Proposed Cantwell Hydro Projects Draw Skepticism

Small hydroelectric projects proposed for the Cantwell area are receiving a mixed response. The proposals outlined at a public meeting this week include both dam and river diversion projects.

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The meeting was organized by the Denali Citizens Council to answer questions and gather feedback on the hydro projects being studied by the Native Village of Cantwell. Village vice president Gordon Carlson is leading investigation of three proposed Cantwell area projects.

Carlson says the projects are all aimed at tapping renewable energy to lower power costs and raise revenue for the village, as well as create jobs. If built, the three projects are only projected to yield a tiny fraction of what the state’s proposed Susitna Watana Dam would. Denali Citizen’s Council board member Nancy Bale says Monday’s meeting raised some concerns.

Bale also points to potential effects on grayling habitat. The primary source of locally generated electricity in the Cantwell-Denali area is from two coal fired power plants operated by Golden Valley Electric Association in Healy. The utility also runs a nearby wind farm, and Bale says residents are receptive to more emission free energy.

Bale and Carlson stress that the hydro projects are in very preliminary stage, and Carslon urges people to them a chance.

The Native Village of Cantwell is working with Wasilla based Northwest Power, which has experience with small scale hydro in the Lower 48. The two entities are in the first year of three-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission preliminary permit to study the projects. The study is primarily based on existing information with minimal field work.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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