The following comes from a recent conversation with Juneau Hydropower creator and owner D. Keith Comstock.
What is Juneau Hydropower?
I tried to pick the simplest, most descriptive name that I could think of. We are in Juneau, and I want to produce green hydropower energy for Juneau and the surrounding area.
Are you going to compete with our local public utility?
No. Our local public utilities are regulated by the state of Alaska and bring electricity to the consumer. Juneau Hydropower hopes to produce green renewable energy for the wholesale/industrial market. I believe that changes in transportation such as the advent of plug in vehicles, regulation and the volatility of the oil market are going to create tremendous and possibly overwhelming demand for additional kilowatts in the years ahead.
Is there a market for more electricity in Juneau?
I have to believe that there is or I wouldn’t be doing this project. Oil prices are volatile and are expected to skyrocket as our economy improves. We face increased competition for oil from rapidly industrializing and westernizing nations such as India and China. In anticipation of these changes, the world auto industry is already shifting to alternatives like hybrids and soon to be released plug in electric cars like the Chevy Volt. High oil prices will also speed the conversion of household heating systems from fuel oil to electricity. All of this creates demand, but it won’t be any cheaper for consumers or better on the environment if there are not enough clean, inexpensive and renewable power sources on the other end of the Electric Grid. Additionally, cheap power attracts industry and promotes positive economic growth for our community. Juneau has so much to offer the world, we just need to be proactive to attract and develop the kinds of industries and jobs that we want for our future. To me, this starts with making sure that there is an abundance of clean, green, renewable power to spur our growth.
Who are you?
I am a former bureaucrat who used to be an entrepreneur and has returned to my entrepreneurial roots and found happiness as a businessperson. My background is in Information Technology. I have worked for, ran, created, bought and sold quite a few IT firms. As a matter of fact, I am still involved in IT. I am also a father, husband, son, outdoorsman, and am owned by a dog who loves Southeast Alaska as much as I do.
Why did you form Juneau Hydropower?
Lots of reasons, lets see:
1) A personal commitment to do something positive and constructive about Global Warming. Everyone can and should do something, and this is what I can do. Fortunately, we are in one of the rainiest spots on earth. Our location definitely puts the hydro in Juneau Hydro. If I lived in Arizona, I would probably try creating Southwest Solar. Even though Arizona is beautiful and sunny, I don’t like hot weather, I am blessed to live here.
2) My Big Fat Carbon footprint. I fly a lot. For the past few years it has been averaging nearly 200K miles a year. That is a lot of greenhouse gas. Even though I own a Prius, not all of my vehicles do so well. Especially my twin diesel boat out at Fishermen’s Bend Marina. When you have to measure fuel efficiency in gallons per mile and you really like fishing/cruising in Southeast, owning a Prius isn’t going to do much to offset my carbon footprint. The environment would be better off if I sold the boat and the Prius and instead our family drove everywhere separately in a fleet of misfiring, gas guzzling, hummers…well you get the idea. Creating JHI was something I could do to make a positive contribution without moving to a commune and renouncing the internal combustion engine.
3) Energy Independence. More clean power in whatever form, hydro, wind, solar, etc. is the first step in freeing our dependence on fossil fuels. Developing Clean Energy lessens our dependence on foreign oil and specifically oil from the Middle East. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am an active supporter of our troops. It seems to me that the more that we can do as a nation to free ourselves from involvement in the Middle East the better off we will be as a nation. I am no expert on these issues, but it seems that if we were not sending our money to the Middle East every time we filled our gas tanks, it would be a little easier on our troops as we would not be inadvertently funding those who may wish to harm us. Maybe my view is too simplistic, but I have got to believe that anything we can do to keep our energy dollars and cents at home is better for our country in the long run.
4) Abundant low cost energy creates jobs. Southeast Alaska has many challenges. The lack of abundant cheap energy certainly has a negative economic impact. Juneau has it much, much better than many of the surrounding communities that are totally dependant on diesel fuel to provide their electricity needs. The last two avalanches were a wakeup call to me that something needed to be done to create additional power sources that are on the other side of the Avalanche chute. Additional sources of clean, green, renewable energy in Southeast Alaska will create jobs and lower the overall cost of energy for everyone.
Isn’t Juneau better off than the surrounding communities?
Yes we are, but we are still at a disadvantage to the rest of the nation. Thinking that we are better off than Hoonah, Angoon, and Kake seems pretty short sighted in a global economy. I have had the privilege of visiting many of the remote villages in Alaska and especially southeast. The people are bright, vibrant, but are in a perpetual disadvantage because of a lack of affordable energy (clean or otherwise). I am not sure that Juneau Hydro will be able to address this problem on its own, but we are open to working with anyone to redress this basic unfairness that also has the unintended consequence of disproportionally affecting the prosperity of Alaska’s proud and incredibly capable Native population. As I have traveled the state, I am continually impressed by the young generation of Native Alaskans who have returned home well educated and dedicated to improving all of Alaska for everyone’s benefit.
How do you reconcile how hydropower impacts fisheries?
We plan to do our best to design our project to enhance the local man made subsistence fishery in Gilbert Bay. I am absolutely committed to this. One of our project goals is to improve the fishery as opposed to mere mitigation. Lake tap and Lake siphon hydropower development systems provide the opportunity to work closely with nature, including fish populations. We believe that we will be able to design and construct our project in a way that allows certification by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute. Compliant projects must meet rigid criteria in fish passage and protection, water quality and species protection. To learn more about additional criteria, visit www.lowimpacthydro.org.
How long is this project going to take?
Great question. It depends on how well the project is received.
The first step is for FERC to review my application and see if it passes the basic smell test of reasonableness. Assuming that we get to a preliminary permit with FERC, then it is time for JHI to hire real outside experts who can tell us whether my ideas are supportable or not. It sure sounds good on paper, but data needs collected, and the risks, costs, and impacts need to be studied to see if this thing makes any economic sense. I have no interest in building a Hydro just because I can. No one is going to purposely build a hydro facility if it costs more to build than the money it will make. So my best guess is 5-10 years. I sure hope it is a lot closer to five.