Juneau is poised to receive a major power up thanks to a new deal.
Juneau Hydropower announced a joint development agreement with the Tokyo-based developer JPOWER to cooperate on the construction of the Sweetheart Lake Hydroelectric Facility on the east shore of Gilbert Bay, around 30 miles south of downtown Juneau.
The project — which has been in the works since 2009 — is finally taking steps toward breaking ground and when complete, it is expected to boost the supply of electrical energy in Juneau by roughly 20-25% and swap a large portion of the nearby Kensington Mine’s usage of diesel generated energy for the electrical power the plant will generate, according to Duff Mitchell, managing director of Juneau Hydropower.
The project is expected to start construction “sometime next year,” Mitchell said during a Thursday afternoon Zoom news conference, which included an appearance by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, and other officials as a part of the project.
“We would like to contribute to supply clean power to Alaska,” said Hiroaki Ushijima, the Vice Chairman of JPOWER USA, a Japanese company that owns and operates 61 hydropower facilities and over 1,500 miles of high voltage transmission.
Mitchell said JPOWER is a “great partner” and will aid Juneau’s hydropower development and district heating projects. As for when the project will be up and running, that is still hard to pinpoint, he said.
“It depends on when we start, so we don’t have an end date, and we have got to deal with the reality of weather and situation,” Mitchell said in an interview with the Empire.
Construction — which he said could span around two to three construction seasons — will include 40 miles of high-voltage transmission line that will connect the plant’s power across Juneau via the state of Alaska-owned Snettisham electrical transmission line which is the main power source for Juneau. It will also connect to the Kensington Mine which will include submarine components through Berners Bay approximately 40 miles north of Juneau.
The project is financed through the Department of Energy and equity is through both JPOWER and Juneau Hydropower. Mitchell said he could not release the entirety of the funding sources for the project at this time, though he said “it’s substantial enough to take the project to and through construction.”
Mitchell said the plant has enough power for the city’s current and future shore power plans in the works at the moment, which has been a source of concern in recent years by city officials and Juneau residents.
Alaska Electric Light and Power Co. projects it will only be capable of offering electrical energy to the City and Borough of Juneau cruise ship dock 25% of the time it is requested, according to a recent memo from CBJ Docks and Harbor port director Carl Uchytil, cited during a recent public meeting.
Though Mitchell said Juneau Hydropower cannot sell its power directly to Juneau’s cruise ship docks due to AEL&P holding over the residential and commercial electric service in the city, there is a potential for an agreement where AEL&P can wholesale purchase hydroelectric energy and in turn be used to provide shore power.
Mitchell said if a business arrangement is made between the two companies, the Sweetheart Lake hydroelectric plant would be able to provide enough energy for the current project plans for dock electrification in Juneau, which include the city’s draft plan to go toward electrifying two city-owned cruise ships docks in the future.
“We’re not suggesting stepping in on their territory, but it allows them to buy and purchase power from third-party suppliers, such as what we are,” he said. “Within reason and with the current planning in place, this would remove one of the barriers that have been discussed for dock electrification.”
He said no discussions have been made directly at the time of the Thursday’s announcement.
Debbie Driscoll AEL&P vice president and director of consumer affairs noted in an email that AEL&P’s sales to Princess Cruise Lines and Holland America are reviewed and approved by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
“As the community continues to move toward enabling cruise ship connections at additional docks, AELP intends to seek ways to serve those facilities in a cost-effective manner that benefits the community,”Driscoll said.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.