Ketchikan: Murkowski's Remarks from the Swan-Tyee Electric Intertie, ‘Throw the Breaker’ Celebration
***As Prepared for Delivery***
Good day, and this truly is a GOOD day. The atmosphere for this ceremony is truly electric. But I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to be here today for this ceremony marking the completion and operation of this first segment of a Southeast Intertie project, the opening of the Swan-Tyee Intertie.
It is hard to believe it has been 15 years since Ketchikan government first started this effort and nearly 13 years since the E-I-S was issued marking the official start of the project to build an intertie to move surplus power from Tyee Lake to Ketchikan.
Clearly Ketchikan needs the roughly 63 million kilowatt hours of additional power yearly Tyee can generate, surplus power that really has been going to waste since Tyee was finished nearly three decades ago. Now this power will find a home providing economic energy to fuel development in Ketchikan while also helping Wrangell and Petersburg and all the ratepayers of the State's former ‘Four-Dam' Pool.
Three years after the EIS was finished at the start of the last decade, Congress in a bill authored by my father, authorized funding to pay up to 80% of the then expected cost of a Southeast Intertie. In the next six years Congress approved $37 million of that authorization to pay for the Swan-Tyee first phase, plus another $5 million in timber funding given to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough that was donated to the project.
Thankfully, the State of Alaska also provided another $46.2 million in 2007 on top of the $19 million funneled from Four Dam Pool ratepayers to finally allow for the completion of this line.
I have to admit there were times back in 2005 and 2006 after all the federal funds had been spent on engineering, design and site preparation, when the Forest Service was complicating the project and when inflation was driving up the cost of steel and power cable that I really worried that this project would not get finished -- that the power line corridor would become the longest 57-mile-long white elephant in Alaskan history.
Thankfully Dave Carlson as director of the Four Dam Pool, State Sen. Bert Stedman, Sen. Al Kookesh, Reps. Kyle Johannsen and Peggy Wilson, former Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein, and local residents such as Tom Friesen of Ketchikan, who unfortunately didn't get to see the line in operation given his recent passing, and Dennis Lewis of Petersburg, just worked even harder to secure the funds to bring this project to a conclusion.
Of course, former Sen. Ted Stevens, Congressman Don Young and my staff too also worked tirelessly to win the federal funding to help bring this project into existence. There are also many other local and state officials who worked hard to assemble the rest of the funding needed to finish this project. I always hesitate to start listing folks since you always leave out people who should be mentioned. So let me just thank everyone from the bottom of my heart who worked so hard to bring this line to fruition.
In this era where everyone seemingly is singing the praises of renewable energy - and occasionally even supporting the funding needed to build the transmission necessary to get alternative energy to market - it is hard to remember what a difficult sell it is to get funding and permits to build high voltage power lines.
But with this line, for the first time Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg are all interconnected and can share lower-cost hydro resources. Now a hydro project can be built anywhere within the area and can benefit everyone. That is a true benefit for the region and for the State.
Clearly this transmission line is also a benefit for the environment. It reduces costly diesel generation, helping to clean the air, reduce carbon emissions and takes full advantage of our God-given, plentiful rainfall.
If we can complete all of the other segments of a SoutheastIntertie, linking the northern Panhandle to the southern tip of Alaska and hopefully onto British Columbia and points south, it should be possible to finance the three dozen additional hydroelectric projects already on the drawing boards in the Panhandle, and the occasional wind, geothermal and ocean energy project as well.
That would allow Southeast Alaska to become a major supplier of renewable energy to the Pacific Coast, after first bringing lower-cost power to ALL residents of the Panhandle.
And that would allow renewable energy to become a key factor not just in sustaining existing businesses in Southeast Alaska, but in also providing jobs and growing the state's economy by giving the region a new 21st Century export - carbon-free, clean electricity.
I don't want to downplay how difficult it is to get federal funding to help with financing of the future segments of a regional intertie. Even with all of the talk about federal funding for "Smart Grid" systems in the future, finding the funds for the pending Kake and Metlakatla transmission intertie segments that are already underway is truly difficult.
It is going to take a lot of work to get additional federal funding at a time when we are once again looking at a prospective $1.4 trillion federal deficit for the current fiscal year and looking at trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.
Still we all must do all we can at the state and federal levels to push ahead with financing of transmission to allow us to build and market renewable energy.
Having flown last autumn into Ketchikan I know what a beautiful sight all of those towers and that ribbon of a clearing down below the cables is. I know how difficult an engineering process it was to build this first segment given the geography and long spans between a number of the towers - a feat that seems more remarkable given that the line was finished six weeks ahead of schedule and under the final revised budget. [Thank god for helicopters!]
It is hard for me to think of any project involving federal funding that has come in UNDER budget in recent years.
But this intertie represents the first tangible progress toward an era when all Southeast residents will benefit from the lower energy prices that hydropower allows compared to isolated diesel generation.
I just want to again thank everyone who made this day possible. It is an honor to be a part of this ‘Throw the Breaker' ceremony.
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