By Rick Smeriglio for SCN –
At a public meeting in Moose Pass on November 6, Homer Electric Association (HEA) spent two hours and 20 minutes of a meeting scheduled for three hours, making a case for constructing a 5-mega-watt hydroelectric generating plant powered by the outflow of Grant Lake. According to HEA, the proposed plant would add about four percent to HEA’s capacity to generate electricity. If HEA secures a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission(FERC) to construct it, the project would cost about $58 million according to Mike Salzetti who ran the meeting and manages fuel supply and renewable energy for HEA. Grant Lake remains the last of three potential sites that HEA has studied since 2008 when it applied for a preliminary license from FERC. Salzetti called Grant Lake the “clear leader” compared to various alternatives for developing Ptarmigan, Crescent and Carter lakes in the area. The current proposal represents a scaled-back version of the proposal presented in Cooper Landing in 2009 and Moose Pass in 2010.
At those earlier meetings, the public expressed open skepticism and some hostility to the proposals. The public asked for more information. HEA apparently heard them and this time around had volumes of information to present. Salzetti called those preliminary meetings “part of the scoping process”. This time around, HEA will use public input as part of its formal application process. Salzetti said that HEA would submit its draft application to FERC in late February or perhaps slightly later in 2015.
“We will roll this [public input] into the formal application and use it as part of our consultation with government agencies,” said Salzetti.
HEA had a note taker at the meeting. The notes will go onto the Kenai Hydro website for public inspection. Salzetti said that the formal process did not actually require the meeting in Moose Pass. HEA had a one-question questionnaire available at the meeting asking the public if it wanted the proposed road to Grant Lake open, closed or limited for motorized vehicles.
“If you really want your comments heard, comment during the formal FERC process. That’s really it, yes. This questionnaire is just an informal process,” Salzetti said.
During the formal process, citizens comment directly to FERC, not just to the proponent of the project. FERC makes the final decision to issue HEA a license or not. During the formal application process, HEA consults with appropriate local, state and federal agencies. It has done so since it began preliminary studies in 2009.
Toward the end of the meeting at 8:20 p.m., after some persons had already left, HEA ended its presentation and opened the floor to question and comment.
Mark Luttrell of Seward told HEA, “I feel like you are here to tell us what you’re going to do. I haven’t heard you say ‘if’. The fact is, the people don’t want this. The time for you to have listened was four to six years ago.”
Mike Salzetti countered with, “The time for the public to give input is when we submit the application. Our members [Homer Electric Association] are asking for this.”
Mike Cooney of Moose Pass stated, “Hydro has the worst ongoing impact [to salmon] of any of the renewables. What I’m worried about is, what happens when none come back. Can you quantify how many come back [to Grant Creek]?”
The fish biologists and engineers of the 8-person HEA presentation team presented copious information about the four salmon species that spawn in the lower reaches of Grant Creek affected by the project. They could not answer Mr. Cooney’s question.
A gentleman in a green shirt asked, “How come the public is not in this process, this licensing process?”
Cory Warnock, Licensing Specialist with the consulting firm McMillen LLC hired by HEA to forward the project, responded by explaining the differences between the traditional process and the alternative process. Traditionally, the public comments after proponents apply for a license.
“With the alternative process,” Warnock said, “we’ve had more collaboration with this project. We’ve had many meetings with agencies and stakeholders.”
While referring to the previous meeting in Moose Pass, a lady in a fuchsia jacket asked, “Back in 2010, it was very apparent that the public didn’t want this. Why are you back?”
Salzetti rebutted with, “In the interim, we heard that the public wanted more robust studies to evaluate the project.”
A gentleman with a ball cap who identified himself as an HEA customer and therefore a member of that cooperative asked, “What do your members want, are a majority in favor? How do you know?”
Salzetti answered, “We work at the bidding of the HEA Board. The Board wants this.”
While referring to public involvement and the Bradley Lake hydroelectric plant near Homer, a gentleman with a white beard asked, “What lessons have you learned from Bradley Lake and others?”
“Optimizing water flows and turbine size,” responded the HEA team.
A Moose Pass father of two advised HEA, “If observed for a long time, this road is a whole different thing from your dam. You’ve got to begin to look at the impacts on an area that has been actively managed as wildland. You really should look at that … We’re not even HEA customers here.”
Salzetti said with a smile, “We understand that you aren’t HEA customers. We would like to make you customers.”
Salzetti went on to tout the benefits of trading renewable energy around the electrical grid that serves Moose Pass and the Kenai Peninsula until politely and compassionately stopped by the Moose Pass father who said, “I appreciate that you are trying to give me something, but you haven’t given me anything.”
Before the back and forth in the room had ended, Bob Baldwin of Cooper Landing who said nothing openly at the meeting, quietly left. Mr. Baldwin has opposed the project from the beginning in 2009 when he called the idea “radioactive”. He dismissed the evening’s presentation as “an enabling meeting”.
In the cold, wet parking lot of the Moose Pass Community Hall, Mr. Baldwin said, “Any changes to the natural flow of Grant Creek, or to any creek in the Kenai watershed, are unacceptable, period.”
Bruce Jaffa, a civically engaged Moose Pass resident, could not attend the meeting but did submit composed comments via e-mail.
In part, Mr. Jaffa wrote, “…we need to balance material and spiritual … We need electricity, we need a clean environment. Is an access road harmful? Not to me … Will this project impact fish? … science should answer this question. My general feeling is that there is opposition to this project that has determined not to compromise … This is not the way the historic occupants and pioneers of [the] area would have acted. Businessmen, Developers, Miners, Trappers, Hunters, such as Ed Estes, Bob Woods, Andy Simons, Nellie Lawing and more would have understood …”
According to information supplied by HEA, the project at Grant Lake and Grant Creek will entail two miles of road, a bridge across the narrows between Upper and Lower Trail lakes, a pond to store excess water, a power transmission line, an inter-tie with the existing transmission line along the Seward Highway, a tunnel intake starting at Grant Lake, a 13-foot fluctuation in the lake water level and a powerhouse along Grant Creek for the turbines. Interested persons may obtain comprehensive detail at Kenai Hydro LLC website.