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HEA powers toward generation

Posted: November 6, 2011 - 9:43pm

Homer Electric Association general manager Brad Janorschke said the utility is making progress on increasing itsability to generate enough electricity to power the Kenai Peninsula.

The primary source of that power will come from work at the Nikiski generation facility, where Homer Electric is working to upgrade the facility and increase its production.

“We are expecting the steam turbine to show up sometime next week,” Janorschke said in a presentation at Wednesday’s Kenai Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Next November, the Nikiski generation facility should be up and running, just as HEA moves away from a power purchase agreement with Chugach Electric Association and toward producing its own power, an effort the utility has dubbed “Independent Light.”

Janorschke said the Nikiski project is a little behind right now, but that the contractor is confident it will get finished.

The turbine’s arrival comes after a rush to pour the base on which it will stand, which had to cure for 30 days, Janorschke said.

Nikiski isn’t the only place where HEA is working on upgrades to get ready for independence day.

At its Soldotna substation, Janorschke said the utility will retire the current fuel unit and install a new gas-fired turbine. The aeroderivative gas turbine is a lightweight unit. Janorschke said the turbine, which is similar to a jet engine, is used by other railbelt utilites, meaning they are considered reliable in Alaska. The Soldotna generation facility is used when demand for electricity is greater than usual, and when power is not available from another source. HEA originally designed and permitted the area to include two turbines, but no longer needs the second turbine because it is buying the Bernice Lake Power Plant.

The association’s purchase of the Bernice Lake is going forward, with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska scheduled to consider the deal later this month. HEA, which owns the property on which the plant stands, is trying to buy the plant from Chugach Electric. If approved, that sale would take effect at the end of 2011 and HEA would start selling power to Chugach.

The older generation facility would require some work, but would serve as back-up power in case another source went offline.

“We’ve budgeted for a controls upgrade right off the bat,” Janorschke said.

Bernice Lake would also provide an option for expanding power production in a decade if demand warranted, Janorschke said, because a new steam turbine could be added in the existing area.

Independent Light will also rely on other energy efforts, including the local Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska facility that will store natural gas for HEA to use at its generation facilities, and small hydro projects.

Homer Electric would benefit from the Grant Lake hydro project in Moose Pass that is still in the design and discussion phases, Janorschke said.

And a Battle Creek diversion to provide more water to the Bradley Lake hydro project could benefit most railbelt utilities, including HEA.

The utility is also working with Ocean Renewable Power Company on a project that could eventually help provide reliable baseload energy, Janorschke said. Currently, ORPC is studying the possibility of tidal generation in the East Forelands area offshore near Nikiski. Eventually, the utility could see turbines channeling 5 megawatts of energy.

Janorschke also provided a brief update on recent rate fluctuations.

Once HEA is producing power, the utility has a contract with Chevron for natural gas that should help even out prices. By August of each year, the utility will have a price on gas for the following calendar year. That begins in January 2014.

Janorschke said the quarterly fluctuations under that contract will be “much, much smaller than what we’ve been experiencing for the last year.”

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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