Alaska digest: A new wind project takes shape outside Anchorage, as AIDEA mulls options for struggling state-owned oil field

Alaska Renewables is proposing a major new wind development near the village of Tyonek, the Legislature's ethics committee loses its administrator and Murkowski gets a new communications director.

By Northern Journal - July 12, 2023
Aerial photo of Tyonek AK. Photo: Thester11/Wikimedia Commons

This week’s digest of short news items from across Alaska includes items on the major new renewable energy project outside Anchorage, the death of a key legislative employee and some developments at a failed, state-sponsored oil project on the North Slope. Plus a few other things.

New wind project in the works near Tyonek

The start-up company Alaska Renewables, which is already studying several other energy projects in the state, is advancing a major new one across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, this time on land that would be leased from the Alaska Mental Health Trust.

Alaska Renewables

The Bald Hills Wind Energy Project, as the company calls it, would be a few miles west of the village of Tyonek and could generate as much as 235 megawatts of power — roughly one fourth of the overall capacity of Chugach Electric Association, Anchorage’s power cooperative, according to new mental health trust documents published this week.

Royalties generated for the mental health trust by the project, which may include as many as 90 turbines, could exceed $50 million over 30 years, those documents say.

Alaska Renewables is also advancing another project on Little Mount Susitna, much farther northeast of Tyonek.

The newer project emerged after a community meeting in the predominantly Native village, where participants brought up the wind potential of the Bald Hills area, according to Matt Perkins, the company’s chief executive.

If there’s interest, the project could also extend onto land owned by Tyonek’s Alaska Native village corporation, and Alaska Renewables has presented the corporation with the concept, Perkins said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Alaska Renewables also recently hired its third staff member, Faith Tyson. Tyson is the company’s community engagement and accountability manager; she grew up in Utqiaġvik and is a member of the Native Village of Shishmaref.

The company is pursuing multiple projects at once, including the Bald Hills project, the Little Susitna project and other developments near Fairbanks. The idea, Perkins said, is to propose projects and see which ones get community buy-in.

“We want to put options on the table,” he said.

Legislative ethics committee loses administrator 

Jerry Anderson, who served as the administrator of the Alaska Legislature’s ethics committee since 2014, died recently, leaving the committee without its top staffer.

The ethics committee is made up of both legislative and public members, and it considers complaints filed that allege violations of Alaska’s Legislative Ethics Act. One legislator on the committee said that Anderson’s death was unexpected and that he’d been recently working with members on processing a complaint.

The committee is set to meet Friday, when it will discuss the process for hiring Anderson’s replacement and how his position will be filled in the interim, according to the meeting agenda.

AIDEA ramps up work on Mustang field

The state of Alaska has a rough history with the Mustang oil field, on the North Slope.

The state’s economic development agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, originally loaned a private oil company, Brooks Range Petroleum, $70 million to advance Mustang. But the project was suspended after oil prices crashed, and following a foreclosure, AIDEA ended up with the property and is not producing any oil.

Industry sources have told me it’s unlikely that oil production from Mustang will be profitable. But the project is in a key location on the North Slope, with its road providing access to Santos’ major Pikka project.

Under its new executive director, Randy Ruaro, AIDEA appears to be making significant efforts related to Mustang — though it’s not yet clear whether those efforts could produce a sale, or some other arrangement where AIDEA holds on to the development, or a portion of it.

In May alone, Ruaro had 10 meetings about the Mustang project, according to copies of his public schedule. AIDEA has also hired John Minge, formerly a top BP executive for Alaska and the entire United States, under a contract for a “Mustang assessment,” according to a list of active contracts that AIDEA provided to Northern Journal in response to a public records request.

A request for a copy of Minge’s full contract is still pending.

Also pending is an extensive request that I made nearly two months ago for an array of Mustang-related documents. Those include status reports submitted to AIDEA by a separate contractor that the agency hired to survey Mustang’s infrastructure, along with email correspondence between AIDEA officials and officials associated with a company, Finnex, that was in negotiations with AIDEA about the project.

In response, AIDEA told me that I’d have to pay $2,158.20 to access the responsive documents. Read the agency’s full letter here.

New communications director for Murkowski

Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has hired a new communications director: Joe Plesha, a former state legislative aide.

Before he was hired, Plesha worked in communications for the bipartisan majority that controlled the Alaska House before last year’s election put a mostly-Republican majority in power.

Plesha has also previously worked as a campaign staffer for Murkowski.

He replaces Karina Borger, who left Murkowski’s office for a job at a renewable energy trade group.

Northern Journal is an Anchorage-based newsletter. This story is free for Alaska news outlets to republish through a partnership with the Alaska Beacon. You can read the original here.

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