Why is Alaska pursuing a large hydro project when dams are being removed from rivers elsewhere?

Susitna-Watana Hydro will deliver 50 percent of the Alaska Railbelt’s electricity. Residents and businesses will be able to count on clean, reliable and stable-priced energy for 100+ years while the state is moved toward its 50 percent renewable electrical energy by 2025 goal.

There are approximately 80,000 dams in the United States, most continuing to serve useful functions. Many small dams were privately built more than a century ago and were designed to serve as a power source for mills, factories or other industry, and have since been removed. These structures were built without the stringent regulatory and environmental review found today.

Recent headlines have focused on the removal (or consideration of removal) of a handful of smaller hydropower dams for environmental reasons, mainly to benefit fish species listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Susitna-Watana Hydro’s location differentiates it from others.

Susitna-Watana Hydro location is located in a far-inland section of the Susitna River, 184-river miles from where the river empties into Cook Inlet. In addition, the project is located 22 to 32 river miles upstream of Devils Canyon, a known impediment to fish passage.

Alaska is among the richest areas in the world when it comes to natural resources. With more than 3,000 rivers and three million lakes, hydropower is a viable energy source to meet the needs of communities across the state. In fact, 21 percent of the state’s current electricity is generated by hydropower.

Advances in technology, engineering and environmental sciences during the past 50 years have made it possible to harness the power of rivers while minimizing the impact to the environment. Most dam removal continues to include unlicensed, non-power dams.