HEA to update Moose Pass on Grant Lake hydro project

Homer Electric Association will update residents on the current state of its Grant Lake hydroelectric project in a public meeting today at the Moose Pass Community Hall. HEA has been planning a hydroelectric installation at Grant Lake since August 2009, when it received a preliminary study permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which issues licenses for power plants.

HEA plans to submit a draft license application to FERC in February 2015. The Moose Pass meeting is held in anticipation of this event.

The town of Moose Pass is on the shore of Trail Lake, approximately four miles from the proposed site of the project, an outlet where Grant Lake releases water into the lower-lying Trail Lake via Grant Creek.

HEA held a previous meeting on the Grant Lake project in Moose Pass on June 3, 2010. Then, HEA was preparing studies on the project’s potential impact, and solicited input from Moose Pass residents and groups including the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“In this particular meeting we wanted to get in front of the folks in Moose Pass and give them an update of where the project sits,” said Mike Salzetti, HEA’s manager of fuel supply and renewable energy development. “We were in Moose Pass back in 2010 when we were doing the FERC scoping process on our study plan. Now that we’ve implemented all those study plans, we want to get back in front of those individuals and present the results.”

The original project design called for a dam at the outlet of Grant Lake into Grant Creek. This design has since been revised. Current plans eliminate the dam and call for lakewater to be let into a tunnel leading to the powerhouse. After passing through the powerhouse’s two turbine units, Salzetti says the flowing water will be released a half mile down the approximately mile-long Grant Creek.

One effect of this design is that the flow of Grant Creek will be diminished upstream of the release point.

“We are proposing a certain amount of bypass flow in that area to maintain habitat, particularly for the juvenile fish,” said Salzetti. “But mostly that will be dewatered. A lot of these reports and studies have centered around (the question of) just how much bypass flow is needed there.”

Salzetti said the upper half of Grant Creek is steeper and faster-moving than the lower half.

“That fast water is generally not prime habitat for fish,” said Salzetti. “So the planned design will … maintain the prime habitat through that lower half of the creek, where most of the spawning and rearing takes place.”

Another revision changed the access road leading to the site from the Seward Highway.

“We found that that road paralleled the right-of-way of the proposed Iditarod National Historic Trail,” said Salzetti. “As a result of our studies, we’ve re-routed the access road. Instead of running parallel with (the trail), the road now has a 90 degree crossing.”

Following HEA’s previous Moose Pass meeting, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Sue McClure and former borough Mayor Dave Carey introduced a resolution to oppose the Grant Lake project. Although the resolution was voted down 6-2, McClure received 34 emails of support.

“I did that in response to the massive outpouring of negativity from the people at that particular public hearing,” said McClure. “The people of Moose Pass overwhelmingly did not want this thing.”

McClure said her constituents haven’t expressed renewed opposition to the project. While she won’t be at this meeting, she said she’ll be “very apprised of what goes on.”

In 2010 and 2011, Michael Cooney, a forestry consultant in Moose Pass, criticized the Grant Lake project in letters to the HEA board of directors, the Alaska Energy and Electrical Cooperative, and FERC. He plans to attend the meeting to learn the specifics of HEA’s updated plan.

“I support hydropower and alternative energy, but only so long as they make sense,” he said. “Considering what we know about hydropower, I don’t think it makes sense to do it on a fish stream unless the benefits are substantial.”

Cooney said HEA’s characterization of upper Grant Creek as poor fish habitat was misleading.

“The original studies showed that the lower reach (of Grant Creek), just above where the powerhouse would be, actually had the highest concentration of rainbow trout,” Cooney said. “So it seems a little bit disingenuous to me to claim that it’s useless habitat.”

If HEA submits a draft license application in February, FERC will hold a 90-day comment period before allowing a final application. Salzetti said that HEA’s future timeline depends on what other agencies and stakeholders say during this period.

“The whole licensing process is designed to get that comment and input,” said Salzetti. “We’ve conducted the studies that we collaboratively agreed to study. We revised as we got the results, and we designed the project based on the information from those things. This draft license application … will say ‘here’s what we think is the optimum solution, based on all of our collaboration and efforts to date, and what do you think?’”

Ben Boettger is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.