Tenakee, Alaska, city council opposes Sealaska's and Inside Passage Electrical Cooperative's geothermal power study at Pegmatite Mountain, citing concerns about disruption to watershed, increased road construction, boat traffic

JUNEAU, Alaska , May 9, 2011 () – Sealaska Corp. and a southeast Alaska power cooperative are trying to study geothermal power in Tenakee Inlet that could reduce power costs in Hoonah, but the idea is drawing resistance from the Tenakee Springs City Council.

The council recently passed a resolution opposing the conveyance of the Pegmatite Mountain site to Sealaska.

"We oppose the selection and development in that Pegmatite Mountain area because it's impractical for Tenakee and we're already attempting to get our own hydro," Councilwoman Jonie McBeen told the Juneau Empire. "And it's in a very sensitive environmental area and right in the middle of a roadless area and has a lot of wildlife."

McBeen said there is concern about disruption to the watershed and increased road construction and boat traffic. The Tenakee Springs council was not consulted on the project before the Inside Passage Electrical Cooperative applied for a grant from the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund, she said.

Both Tenakee and Hoonah are on Chichagof Island.

Jodi Mitchell, chief executive of the IPEC and a Sealaska board member, said the project could reduce Hoonah's dependence on fossil fuels. Hoonah's electric rates are up to six times the national average, with the average cost per kilowatt-hour of about 55 cents.

"The volatility in fuel price has made it next to impossible for businesses to operate, since they cannot know with any certainty what they will be paying for electricity," she said in an email. "In fact, most recently there have been business shutdowns in Hoonah, especially restaurants, since electricity is one of their largest overhead costs."

Sealaska Vice President Rick Harris said Hoonah sometimes pays 61 to 68 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 9 cents in Juneau.

"This community has no real hydro potential and this might potentially be their long-term energy supply," he said. "The goal for all of us is to get everybody off diesel."

The grant application is for reconnaissance studies only.

The potential geothermal site at Pegmatite Mountain is about 18 miles from Hoonah and 30 or more miles from Tenakee Springs.

Sealaska's role is to aid IPEC in the grant application and to provide money that the cooperative is not eligible to receive. The corporation also would seek ownership of the site.

"I think that by us in a position of owning the property, it speeds the ability for permitting and getting testing done and bringing this forward quicker," Harris said.

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