Sunday, May 1, 2016

Day Four: Renewable Energy Sources, Coal Mining, and the Susitna River Dam

We started today with two presentations right in the cabins. The first presentation talked about the cons of the Susitna River Dam on the community, ecosystems, and Alaska in general. The second was on the responsibility of coal in the Alaskan energy demand and the misconceptions around coal mining that do not necessarily extend past the lower 48.

Ellen and Doug came all the way from Telkeetna, Alaska to speak on behalf of the Susitna River Coalition whose mission statement is to stop the proposed Susitna mega dam through collaboration, education, advocacy and awareness of the values of an intact Susitna watershed and eventually to establish permanent protection for the river. The Susitna River Coalition started as a group of 5 people in 2012 that through grass root efforts such as booths at the state fair and sports shows was able to grow the organizations numbers to around 5,000 people in 2014 and eventually approximately 20,000 people in 2016. There were many interesting facts that were presented during this talk about the dam and the Susitna River itself. Some of which being that the dam would only allow a third to one forth the original water to flow in the summer months, the dam itself would power one half if urban Alaska and would be located 184 miles up from the mouth of the river past devil’s canyon. The dam would be load-barring meaning that the dam would let water out when energy need is high and conserve water when its low, meaning that the water level of the river would fluctuate between 10-12 feet. The Susitna River itself is a glacier fed river which means that the ecosystem itself depends on ice and the placement of a dam on this river would block the formation of ice that’s needed by the fish and the ecosystem due to the constant movement of water to produce power. Other interesting facts that were presented was the fact the the state of Alaska has spent almost $193 million on research alone on studies about the dam and the expected cost of the dam is approximatively $6 billion that would come from public funds usually allocated to education and public works such as libraries. Another fact that was brought up was the effect that dams have had on the salmon population in the lower 48 and the fact that the placement of the Susitna River Dam would have on the salmon population in Alaska would be detrimental.
 Ellen and Doug from the Susitna River Coalition holding up a picture of the Susitna River and the logo designed by a local artist.

The second presentation of the day was given by Dan and Lorali, on the uses and benefits of Alaskan coal, from the Alaskan Coal Association. They started their presentation with breaking down the Nationwide Energy Balance and the categories of fuels used to produce energy demand.

There is no denying that the landscape of energy use needs to change to more viable options, coal, oil, and gas have a known expiration date. Oil and natural gas is expected to run dry in about 50 years while coal is expected in 100 years. However high the need for renewable energy to replace these old methods, renewable energy goes hand-in-hand with coal and oil. The materials needed to make renewable energy like metals and ores come from the coal mines. Some misconceptions that arise from coal mining is that it is dirty and causes pollution and leaves the land in which its mined from in shambles and destroyed. Alaska’s coal is low in sulfur and mercury, which is the cause of most pollution, and lowers the level of emissions. Alaskan mining procedure includes using reclamation to leave the land in which the coal is mined in pristine conditions. Usebelli Mining company is a perfect example of this. Although the Usebelli Mines have been doing this for years it wasn’t until 1983 when the ASCMCRA was passed in Alaska that dictated the the reclamation procedure had to be enacted in every mine. This law also made it so that for every ton of coal mined, mines paid a commission that would be used to clean up and reclamate old abandoned mines.

Dan and Lorali from the Alaska Coal Association standing in front of the slideshow they used to present the facts about energy use in Alaska.

After lecturing all morning, we had a nice relaxing evening in which we went to Anchor Point Beach to explore the coast line near us. We were allowed to explore and just relax for a couple hours while taking pictures and just observing in general the beauty that is the Alaskan Coast. After returning from the beach we had a cookout that was put on by the property owner’s family of which the cabins we are staying in and finished the night with either badminton or volleyball, depending on preference.

Baily Williams

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