August 8th: Gold Creek Hydro Plant

Shannon Stellato

Tuesday, August 8th, I had my defining moment. We were starting the day off with a tour of the Gold Creek Hydro Plant in Juneau, Alaska. I was really excited to finally be learning about something related to my major. That being said, I was heading into this tour with the idea that all hydropower plants caused severe environmental and societal impacts through floods and dams. I was ready to ask our tour guide, “Alec, how many people has this plant displaced and how much forest was flooded?” However, once the tour started and Alec started explaining the different types of hydropower plants Juneau has, I realized that Juneau has the resources for hydropower and it makes sense to use it there. The plant we were touring was a “run-of-the-river” meaning its output depends on the flow of the creek. Juneau only has one dam, Salmon Creek Dam, which supplies approximately 10% of Juneau’s electricity. Other hydro plants that provide electricity to Juneau rely on head pressure from lakes at high elevations to produce energy. Lower than normal snowfall can lead to less buildup of water in the lakes and less energy production. It was all so fascinating to learn about. I thought it was great to hear the terms I’ve learned about in class actually being used and seeing the machines that I’ve only seen diagrams of. Denice said my eyes lit up during the tour, and with good reason.

The class listening to Alec at the Gold Creek Hydro Plant.

Alec also spoke about community outreach and educating people about renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles. He said it’s tough to push renewables and sustainability where energy costs are low. They have no drive to want to change their normal lifestyles, so Alec emphasized the importance of relating to people. One example he gave was that in Juneau, the community is split between environmentalists and those wanting to expand on their mining. One commonality between these two groups is that gas prices in Juneau are very high. That’s why Juneau now has about 150 electric vehicles. The hydropower plants lowers the cost of electricity between 10pm and 5am whenever there is excess energy in order to encourage the switch to electric. I really appreciated this insight because I believe the biggest obstacle that renewable energy and sustainable practice faces is that people don’t want to change unless their actions are directly affecting them or if they’ll benefit from the change. I’m excited to share my knowledge on renewable energy and sustainability with others and help them think differently. This tour reassured me that I chose the right major and now I can’t wait to see what I can do with it in the future.

The hydro plant’s backup diesel generator.

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