OPINION: Now is your chance to comment on the Eklutna Hydro project

Over the next few months, there is an opportunity for you to make your voice heard about the future of the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project. The project currently supplies the cheapest renewable energy in the Railbelt; however, the not-for-profit utilities that own the project are working to balance the affordable and sustainable energy needs of the communities we serve along with the cultural and fishery resources of the region.

We want to hear from our impacted co-op members and other Alaskans to help ensure we strike the right balance among renewable energy, drinking water, and fish habitat in the final fish and wildlife program we submit to the governor this spring. The public is invited to come and learn more about the draft program at multiple open-house events this month, have the opportunity to ask questions of subject matter experts, and submit comments. Public comments can also be sent by email to info@eklutnahydro.com

Upcoming public meeting schedule:

Jan. 16: Palmer Community Center (Depot), 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Jan. 17: Arctic Rec Center (Anchorage), 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Jan. 18: The Workplace & Event Center (Eagle River), 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Eklutna Hydroelectric Project, located about 30 miles northeast of downtown Anchorage, is owned by Chugach Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association and the Municipality of Anchorage. When the owners bought the hydro project from the federal government in the 1990s, we agreed in the 1991 Fish and Wildlife Agreement, called the 1991 Agreement, to work with the state of Alaska and federal fisheries agencies to recommend to the governor a program to protect, mitigate damages to, and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by the hydro project.


The Draft Fish and Wildlife Program out for public comment is the result of four years of collaborative study with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources, the Native Village of Eklutna (NVE) and several conservation-based organizations.

Based on the study results, the owners invited state and federal agencies and interested parties to suggest alternatives to meet our commitment to mitigating the impact of the Eklutna Hydroelectric Project on fish and wildlife. We conducted a comprehensive alternatives analysis of more than 30 proposals from this group of stakeholders, including a deep dive into the technical and economic feasibility of each option.

The draft program out for public comment uses the existing water supply infrastructure to provide year-round water flows to 11 out of 12 miles of the Eklutna River. The studies and analysis indicate it will significantly benefit four species of salmon that are currently observed in the lower river, while balancing fish habitat with protection of the public water supply and renewable energy. You can read the entire draft program at www.eklutnahydro.com

The 1991 Agreement specifically requires the owners and the governor to consider eight items:

• Efficient and economical power production

• Energy conservation

• The protection, mitigation of damages to, and enhancement of fish and wildlife

• Protection of recreational opportunities

• Municipal water supplies

• The protection of other aspects of environmental quality

• Other public uses

• Requirements of state law

Among all 30 options investigated, each has pros and cons when considering the eight required items, and there are none without controversy, including a wide range of costs. There is no question the draft program is the result of trade-offs and tough choices. We believe the proposed program strikes a reasonable compromise among all eight required elements that creates significant fish habitat while protecting this important renewable energy asset and controlling ratepayer costs.

We recognize the co-op members served by this project are facing unprecedented times. The Cook Inlet gas supply used to power and heat our homes and businesses is uncertain and predicted to sharply escalate in price. Water returned to the river reduces available, dispatchable, renewable energy that cannot be replaced with wind or solar. Eklutna hydropower is also the least expensive power on the Railbelt, with the only reliable replacement for this power currently generated by natural gas, which grows more expensive and uncertain. At a time when the call for more use of renewable energy is getting louder, it is the member-owned utilities’ obligation to act responsibly to ensure the clean, low-cost energy provided by the hydro project is not unduly compromised while meeting the obligations of the 1991 Agreement.

We respect the history of the Eklutna people. We enjoy the Eklutna River watershed as many Alaskans do and understand its cultural significance to the Eklutna people. We believe the draft program proposed will promote fish habitat while continuing to provide reliable, clean, and affordable energy to Alaskans for decades to come. The owners are continuing to work with the agencies who signed the 1991 Agreement and NVE to find common ground so we can bring a satisfactory and successful final program to the governor this spring.

Kolby Hickel is deputy municipal manager for the Municipality of Anchorage.

Andrew Laughlin is chief operating officer of Chugach Electric Association.


Tony Zellers is director of power supply for Matanuska Electric Association.

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