Thursday, January 7, 2010

The strong need to build a powerline to Alaska and Yukon

Currently the plans are to build a new transmission line part way up Highway #37, this line is proposed to be a 287kV line. The power line is very important for the development of numerous projects in Northwest BC, but it could have a much more important role if it were built all the way to Alaska and much larger.

BC can play a very important role in North America by making it possible for northern power to be wheeled to the south. The northwest of BC along highway #37, Alaska and Yukon all have very high potentials for sustainable energy production. About 1/3 of the untapped hydroelectric generation potential in the US lies in Alaska.

What is being suggested here is not made in isolation, as an example, Elmer Derrick, the chief land claims negotiator for the Gitxsan, is already saying the current proposed line should be a 500kV line. There are also Alaskans looking for a connection as well and released a feasibility study in 2007 by Hatch Acres looking at connecting south east Alaska to BC.

Alaska has huge potentials for power production but is a widely dispersed grid that serves a small market. There is no incentive for development of much more power in Alaska because there is no wider market for the power. With a connection to the Western Interconnection, Alaska will be able to import power in the short term, but in the longer term would be able to develop huge amounts of renewable electrical power generation.

The Western Interconnection is the electrical grid in western North America. It includes BC, Alberta, 11 US States and Baja Norte in Mexico. This is one large electrical unit and has to be viewed as whole and not in small pieces. Alaska and Yukon are not connected.

The closest Alaskan connection to the Highway #37 line would be only 110 km away. There is already interest in the Wrangell area in developing as much as 3000 MW of non storage hydro power should they be able to get access to the line. This would be about 11,000 GWh/yr. In all of southeast Alaska there is a potential of 11,000 MW of hydro power.

Allowing Alaska to be part of the Western Interconnection will also allow them to reduce their electricity rates. Currently in Alaska the cost of power is about $0.17 USD per KW/h, almost 50% higher than the US average and more than three times what we pay in BC. It is an important policy issue for the Alaska Energy Authority to find ways to reduce the costs of electrical power in the state.

In Yukon, electricity costs about $0.13 per KW/h, more than twice the cost in BC. Yukon also has a significant number of possible renewable energy projects. 5000 to 10000 GWh/yr of renewable power from Yukon is not unrealistic within 20 years of being connected to the Western Interconnection. Yukon also suffers from issues of reliability of the grid in the territory. With a connection to the Western Interconnection, there will be a more stable grid in Yukon.

The electrification of Highway #37 has been pushed by the needs of the mining sector in the Northwest. This is an important reason for the transmission line, but it pales in comparison to the amount of power opportunities that exist in that region. As of this date, no reported has considered the potential non storage hydro sites in the Highway #37 corridor.

The highway #37 corridor has a potential of making hundreds of non storage hydro sites in BC economical. A November 2007 review of non storage hydro sites in BC by Kerr Wood Leidal indentified a potential of about 14,000 GWh/yr, if half of the locations become economically viable, this could add about 7000 GWh/yr.

Within 20 years of a connection through to Alaska and Yukon, the Highway #37 line could be the source of up to 50,000 GWh/yr of renewable power for the Western Interconntion. This is close to the total power produced in BC at the moment. This is of importance to all of western North American and should be made a priority now.
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