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Line upgrades could help get renewable energy to the grid, state says

Some transmission lines on the Railbelt haven't been upgraded in decades.
Sabine Poux
Some transmission lines on the Railbelt haven't been upgraded in decades.

The Alaska Energy Authority got the go-ahead this week to upgrade aging electrical transmission lines from Bradley Lake to Quartz Creek. That’s after the board of the public corporation greenlit $175 million in bond financing to fund what AEA Director Curtis Thayer said are much-needed improvements.

“Currently, the transmission lines we have are too small and we’re unable to transmit additional power,” he said. “And most likely that additional power is going to be renewables. And so with this upgrade, we’ll have these lines appropriately sized — which would be just a lot more efficient in moving those electrons across the grid.”

Thayer said the Railbelt’s aging transmission lines aren’t up to the task of bringing renewable power to the more than a half-million Alaskans who live between Homer and Fairbanks.

That includes power generated by the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Project, which supplies the Railbelt with about 10 percent of its energy needs, overall. Homer Electric Association, gets about 14% of its power from Bradley today.

But Thayer said better transmission lines could pave the way for other renewable projects, too.

On the Kenai Peninsula, private companies are exploring the potential forsolar and tidal energy. AEA plans to expand the Bradley Lake project using water from the receding Dixon Glacier nearby.

That power is no good if it can’t get to the grid. That’s where Thayer said upgrades could help.

“So if there’s additional hydro project, wind or solar or tidal, now the transmission lines are sized appropriately to carry that power to the utilities in the most efficient manner,” Thayer said.

Thayer said those improvements will reach utilities as far north as Fairbanks, which also gets power from Bradley Lake.

The bond will also finance battery energy storage systems, which can store renewable energy for later use. Homer Electric Association is cutting the ribbon on its Soldotna BESS next week.

Funding for AEA’s project comes from excess bond payments from Bradley Lake. Utilities finished paying off the project’s bonds last year.

“And according to the agreement of 30 years ago, we can use that for what we call ‘required project work,’” Thayer said.

Thayer said the project will not result in additional costs to ratepayers.

Sabine Poux is a freelance reporter based in Homer. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont, where she fell in love with local news. She covers all things Kenai Peninsula, but is especially interested in stories related to energy and fishing. She'd love to hear your ideas at
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