Feds fund improvements for Alaska’s Railbelt electric grid

a transmission line outside
Some transmission lines on the Railbelt haven’t been upgraded in decades. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

The Biden administration is sending Alaska more than $200 million to improve the Railbelt electrical grid, which runs from Homer to Fairbanks.

The project includes a high-voltage submarine cable between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage and multiple battery energy storage systems. 

All three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation lauded the Department of Energy award. In a joint press release, they noted that the money comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill of 2021, which both U.S. senators voted for.

Congresswoman Mary Peltola says her office took the lead on pressing the Biden administration for the grant. She says she personally spoke to the president and the Energy secretary about it.

“Every penny that we asked for we received so I think that really says something,” she said.

The Alaska Energy Authority has long advocated for infrastructure improvements to make the grid more reliable and to better deliver hydroelectric power from Bradley Lake, near Homer.

The federal grant must be matched by an equal amount from elsewhere, bringing the total to $413 million.

Peltola says the improvements will allow power from a variety of sources.

“We’ve got to update our grid to allow for renewables to go into the grid and provide some redundancies,” she said. “And with our extreme weather and long distances, it certainly is an investment that we need to make.”

The project is expected to be completed in eight years.

Correction: The original version of this story relied on a press release from the congressional delegation to report that the Alaska Energy Authority would provide the matching funds. The AEA says the source of the required match has not been identified.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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