The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) and the Railbelt utilities will spend more than US$200 million on transmission line upgrades. These enhancements will reduce line losses, increase capacity, and improve the delivery of power from the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric project (Bradley Lake) to Railbelt consumers.
“Railbelt” refers to the interconnected electric grid that stretches approximately 700 miles (1127 km) from Fairbanks through Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. About 70% of Alaska’s population is served by the Railbelt electric system. Four member-owned electric cooperatives and one municipal utility sell power to Railbelt customers. The Railbelt utilities are Chugach Electric Association, Golden Valley Electric Association, Homer Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association, and Seward Electric System.
Owned by AEA, Bradley Lake is the largest hydroelectric plant in Alaska. Located approximately 27 miles (43 km) northeast of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, the 120-MW facility generates 10% of the total annual electrical energy used by Railbelt electric utilities and provides power to about 550,000 Alaskans from Homer to Fairbanks.
Bradley Lake is managed by the Bradley Lake Project Management Committee (BPMC), which is comprised of a representative from each of the five Railbelt utilities and AEA. The BPMC has identified a source to fund these projects at no additional cost to ratepayers and with no burden on the State treasury. Each utility has paid a portion of the annual debt service on the original bonds since Bradley Lake was completed. The bonds were paid off in 2021 and under the Power Sales Agreement, the Railbelt utilities continue to make annual payments until 2050. These funds are now available to be used for upgrades related to the Bradley Lake project. The Department of Law has determined that the proposed transmission upgrades are required project work that benefits Bradley Lake and Railbelt ratepayers.
These transmission projects will reduce the constraints on the Railbelt grid by improving the Kenai Peninsula’s transmission capacity to export power from Bradley Lake, while also allowing for the integration of additional renewable energy generation. In addition to the needed physical upgrades of the Railbelt grid infrastructure, these planned projects are anticipated to provide jobs and other economic development opportunities from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks.