Home Glaciers Melting glaciers could give Alaska’s largest hydropower project a chance to expand

Melting glaciers could give Alaska’s largest hydropower project a chance to expand

The Bradley Lake Dam in 2014 (Ian Dickson / KTOO)

Dixon Glacier, across Kachemak Bay from Fitz Creek, is receding rapidly.

This is true for glaciers around Alaska and around the world. But what’s special about Dixon is that it’s a few miles from Bradley Lake, a hydroelectric power source that supplies the railroad belt with about 10% of its energy needs.

And as the glacier continues to retreat, the Alaska Energy Authority, owner of the project, says it can increase the project’s capacity by using water from the glacier.

“If you talk in terms of geologic timescales, it’s definitely rapidly retreating,” said Bretwood Higman, a Seldovia-based geologist. “I mean, it’s something that, if you went to visit the glacier two years in a row and stood right next to it, it would be pretty obvious that it was different.”

Dixon Glacier has receded enough in the past five years that there is now an exposed creek on state lands. This is appealing to the Alaska Energy Authority, which is looking for ways to expand the 120-megawatt Bradley Lake project.

Bradley Lake is Alaska’s largest hydroelectric power station and sends electricity to utilities through the railroad belt. Its power is also cheaper than other sources, at 4 cents per kilowatt hour.

Alaska Energy Authority executive director Curtis Thayer said the Dixon water diversion could increase the project’s capacity by 50%.

“If Bradley can produce – now he’s producing 10 – but if he could produce 15 or 16 percent renewable energy on the Railbelt, that’s huge,” Thayer said.

The company recently completed another expansion project, a three-year effort to divert stormwater runoff from Battle Creek to Bradley Lake. This project increased the production capacity of the facility by 10%.

Higman said that, in a broad sense, energy providers can anticipate changes in the amount of water that becomes available for hydropower projects as glaciers continue to melt. And he said it might be helpful for them to anticipate how this changing landscape might affect their portfolios.

“Bradley is already a critical part of our electrical infrastructure,” he said. “And it would be really nice to know how we might expect that to change as we do things like develop a wind that could be balanced against Bradley.”

An analysis by the Alaska Energy Authority earlier this year places the price of the Dixon project at $ 125 million. Thayer said the Alaska Energy Authority is considering several ways to complete the glacier project.

“We could divert it to Bradley Lake,” Thayer said. “Or maybe even do what we call a flowing river, where we put a generator on the river that’s currently flowing and create electricity and ship the electricity and let the water keep flowing. in Kachemak Bay. “

He said it could be up to a decade for the Alaska Energy Authority to bring the glacier project online. Until then, it’s unclear how much the Dixon Glacier will be further melted.

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