County to Explore
by Sam Taylor
Whatcom County officials announced today that they have asked the U.S. government for permission to study whether the county should participate in a $125 million renewable energy project in Alaska.
In a late-afternoon announcement, County Executive Pete Kremen called the potential project "visionary" and one that could lead not only to additional renewable energy sources for Whatcom County but also an economic development initiative that would entice businesses here for cheap electricity.
The county asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit to do environemental and engineering feasibility studies that could cost up to about $1.1 million, according to the federal application.
"It's visionary and it also doesn't bind us or commit us to anything," Kremen said. "This is not going to be an overnight deal."
Indeed, said Tom Fisher, president of Cascade Creek, LLC, whose company has applied for two other permits to do the project and hopes to work in conjunction with the county if it decides to move forward.
Just studying the project could take years, but it would be worth the wait, he said.
The project would tap Swan Lake, about 15 miles north of Petersburg, Alaska, by drilling a hole in the lake bed and running a pipe into a power generation station below. The pressure of the high-elevation lake is so high that it has the potential to generate as much energy as a dam on the Snake River, Fisher said.
It would be enough green power to offset the use of 15 million gallons of diesel fuel, he said.
Canada recently constructed a $400 million power transmission line near the Alaskan border, Fisher said, that would allow the power to be sent to the United States and Whatcom County.
The power would be shared by Canada, southeast Alaska and the mainland U.S.
As of now no other costs are associated with the project, officials said. If it were feasible, the county likely would have to pass a bond to build a power generation station, Fisher said.
Kremen said that after the county lost several cold storage plants more than a decade ago, that having the cheap renewable energy here might lure similar industrial companies.
The facilities that left, Kremen said, went to Grant County, where such cheap power was readily available. The companies went from paying 6 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour to about 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour.
"This is probably the most environmentally sensitive way to generate significant amounts of power known to man," Kremen said. "This has the opportunity, the potential, for the county to provide for this green, sustainable, renewable power at predictable, affordable rates."
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