In an election that concluded Thursday, Homer Electric Association members chose between six candidates for the three open seats on the cooperative’s board of directors. In two of the races, incumbents Kelley Bookey and Jim Levine kept their seats, while a third incumbent — HEA Board of Directors president Dick Waisenen — lost to newcomer Dan Furlong.
HEA’s nine-member board consists of three members from three districts, with one seat from each district coming up for election each year. This year each incumbent faced a challenger — Furlong replaced Waisanen, a retired teacher and principal who’d served six years on the HEA board, in District 2 (covering Soldotna and Sterling), while in District 1 (Kenai, Nikiski, part of Kasilof) Bookey, a retired truck-driver and commercial fisherman, ran against former special education teacher and orthodontic assistant Kate Vey; in District 3 (Southern Peninsula from Cohoe Loop to Nanwalek) Levine, a construction project manager, ran against Doug Stark, a former Homer City Council member and former board member of Chugach Electric Association.
HEA director Dan Chay is replacing Waisanen as the board’s president. Chay’s term will expire in 2019.
This election came after a contentious year for HEA, which in 2016 held a vote of its membership on whether or not to withdraw from the oversight of Alaska’s utility regulator, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. The deregulation effort failed, with 70 percent of the 6,896 HEA members who voted opposing it. HEA has 22,892 members.
The director’s election — which began with mailed ballots on April 3 and concluded at Thursday’s member meeting at Soldotna High School — drew 4,999 votes from the three districts. In District 1, Bookey won 716 votes against 332 for Veh. In District 2, Furlong drew 810 votes to Waisanen’s 490. In district 3, Levine defeated Stark with 1,134 votes to Stark’s 411.
The need to seek renewable energy sources was a repeated theme of the election, with all six candidates declaring support for it in previous interviews, and some emphasizing it in speeches they gave at Thursday’s meeting. Veh promised to “research cost-effective (renewable energy) technologies that work effectively in northern climates.” Stark advocated for expanding the Bradley Lake hydroelectric plant on the south side of Kachemak Bay. Levine, a member of the HEA board’s renewable energy committee, referred to Kodiak, whose energy production is 90 percent renewable. Levine said using renewable power had dropped electric rates in Kodiak to around what they’d been 15 years ago.
“I guess to me, it shows that renewable energy is very real, and would create savings for all of our members,” Levine said.
Presently, HEA’s only renewable energy comes from its 12 percent share of the power from the state-owned Bradley Lake hydroelectric plant, which constitutes about 10 percent of the energy HEA generates. The rest comes from natural gas.
“Trying to find reliable, utility-scale renewables that don’t hammer the rates is very difficult,” HEA General Manager Brad Janorscke said at Thursday’s meeting. “They’re a rare commodity.”
Janorschke spoke about three renewable projects that may soon be feeding into the HEA grid. Though each is relatively small, Janorschke said that taken together they could double the renewable portion of HEA’s power.
One is an augmentation that the state’s Alaska Energy Authority is planning to add to Bradley Lake: a tunnel that would divert water into the Bradley Lake reservoir from the nearby Battle Creek, increasing the Bradley hydroplant’s annual generation by about 10 percent, according to previous Clarion reporting. This would supply the annual needs of about 5,500 homes, Janorschke said, and HEA would get at least 12 percent of the increase. Janorschke said the $45 million project may be in service by the end of 2019.
A smaller project would tap Moose Pass’s Grant Lake for a hydroelectric plant with an estimated capacity of 5 megawatts. The Grant Lake project has been in planning and permitting since 2009, and Janorschke said it “is in the homestretch” of earning the FERC permit it applied for in April 2016, which he expected to granted around fall 2018.
“Although small, this one would produce enough energy to serve about 3,000 homes,” Janorschke said.
HEA also plans to tap the methane gas produced by decomposing waste in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Central Peninsula Landfill, located near Soldotna. The cooperative has been working with the borough on a generator that would capture and burn this gas.
“Again, a small project,” Janorschke said of the landfill gas. “Initially, to get the most benefits out of whatever generator is installed, we will augment it with pipeline gas. Even with that, it appears to be very attractively priced, and with that we could serve over 2,000 homes.”
HEA is also studying a more speculative renewable energy project: a solar installation, likely to be based in Homer, that would use sun-tracking SmartFlower photovoltaic units. As it is now planned, the solar project would be funded directly by HEA members who choose to invest in it and who would receive proportional shares of its output. HEA Director of Power, Fuels, and Dispatch Larry Jorgenson said the solar concept has yet to undergo engineering studies to estimate its cost and output, but he estimated a 20 percent share could cost around $5,000.
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.