Keeping the lights on

News that Homer Electric Association is on track with plans to generate electricity independently is reassuring, to say the least, especially considering that so much of the rest of our region’s energy portfolio continues to be in flux.

The main components of HEA’s project, dubbed Independent Light, include a new steam turbine in Nikiski, which takes advantage of exhaust heat from the existing natural gas turbine there, a new combustion turbine in Soldotna, and the Bernice Lake Power Plant, purchased from Chugach Electric in 2011. HEA also continues to explore a variety or renewable energy projects around the Kenai Peninsula.

The goal of the electric cooperative, which serves the central and southern Peninsula, is to be able to produce its own power when its contract with Chugach Electric expires at the end of the year. With new components set to go online in the coming months, and natural gas supply contracts secured through 2016 with options after that, Peninsula residents won’t have to worry about keeping the lights on for the next few years.

Contrast that with other energy plans for the region — which tend to be scattershot and up in the air at best. This year and next have been marked on the calendar as a crucial time in terms of energy supply for several years, yet very little has happened at a regional or state level to develop a cohesive energy plan. Maybe we’re getting closer to an in-state gas line. Maybe the Susitna dam project will get a green light. Maybe Cook Inlet explorers will find large deposits of natural gas to bring to market. But even if any of those things do happen, they are several years away from fruition. Long-term energy supply issues are not something that can solved overnight.

Fortunately, HEA has shown itself to be proactive when it comes to energy security. That forward thinking will benefit central and southern Peninsula residents now and for a number of years to come.

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