Beginning April 1, members of Homer Electric Association can vote for a candidate from their district to serve a three-year term on the association’s Board of Directors. One seat in each district is up for election this spring. In the next three years — term each director serves — the board will be asked to move forward with the utility’s Independent Light project, solidify a tidal power partnership with Ocean Energy Renewable Power and work with other utilities on potential energy projects like the state’s proposed large hydro.
Mail-in ballots are due at the association’s office by May 4, with last-minute voting available at the annual meeting on May 5 at Soldotna High School. Registration and voting will be at 4:30 p.m., with a business meeting starting at 6 p.m.
In District 1, which represents Kenai, Nikiski and parts of Soldotna, Kenai’s Kelly Bookey is challenging David Thomas, also of Kenai. Candidates for Districts 2 and 3 will appear in Friday’s Clarion.
District 1 incumbent David Thomas is currently finishing his first three-year term on the board and said he wants to continue serving.
“I enjoy participating in these discussions and decisions.”
The engineer said he looks at costs with an eye toward the future, rather than just the immediate rate for a kilowatt hour.
“Absolutely the most efficient equipment is the lower cost of power over the next few decades,” he said.
He said he’s willing to pay a little more on a bill to be more affordable in the long-term.
“I think our children should be in an area with reliable, efficient generation,” Thomas said.
For example, Thomas said that when the board of directors looked to buy equipment for the association’s Independent Light project, he advocated for buying more efficient equipment, even if it meant spending a little more up front.
Thomas said he didn’t discount the importance of low rates in the present, but that he felt the association’s ability to lower costs is really small. There’s a one or two percent margin that the association can control, he said.
When the board took a vote on the most recent rate change, he was in favor of it, but said it was an imperfect solution.
“I can say pretty broadly that if you’re seeing your rates go up, it’s because other members were subsidizing you for years,” he said. “The new rates move HEA move towards charging for the actual cost of service,” he said.
Thomas said he also wants to see the association invest in power for the long-term, not just equipment.
“I’m willing to go towards renewables a little sooner than the economics would strictly dictate,” he said. Thomas said that Bradley Lake was a good example of when that philosophy panned out. When it was built, it was producing expensive power. Now it’s the cheapest.
Thomas supports venturing into multiple renewable energy sources.
Hydro is something Thomas said he thinks the board should continue to look at, but that the board will have to consider the asethic and environmental aspects of each potential project.
Thomas said he hoped the board would get to see engineering estimates and technical information on the proposed Watana large-scale hydro project in a few years.
Tidal is another option.
“Tidal is the most energy dense stream and infinitely more predictable than wind,” he said. “But the pioneers are the ones with the arrows on their back. It is much more experimental, much more cutting edge. I question at this point just how bleeding edge it is.”
Thomas said he would support HEA partnering on small-scale tidal projects.
Rates and renewables aren’t Thomas’ only concerns. The board also has to consider how to have back-up power, he said, and that’s going to be a concern as the utility transitions to Independent Light. The board will have to figure out how to be ready to get more power online quickly once it starts producing all of its own electricity in a few years, he said.
Challenger Kelly Bookey would be a first-timer on the board of directors, but has served on other local boards, including a stint as Vice President of the Boys and Girls Club, and leadership roles at the Elks and Eagles. The retired UPS driver has lived in Kenai most of his life, and has considered getting involved for a while. Now he is retired and has the time to put into the board, he said.
“I just figured it was time to get involved,” he said.
He’s already started preparing, going to a few meetings and getting a feel for how the board operates.
Like Thomas, Bookey said he’s focused on the infrastructure he leaves behind for his grandchildren.
“I’m a big believer in power for our future,” he said. “And they are our future.”
He’s also concerned about the cost of electricity — both today, and decades down the road.
“We’ve gotta get it under control,” he said. “We gotta keep the rates low for future generations.”
Bookey said that he thought the utility needed to consider the region’s future needs as it develops. He cited the borough’s Navarre building as an example of something that had been built with consideration for future space needs, not just what was needed at the time it was built. Ultimately, that has made the building more useful today, he said.
Bookey attributed current rates to the association’s oil and said he thinks alternative energy could be the solution, but it’ll have to be cost-effective.
“I’m open to any and all alternative power and ways to get power,” he said.
He said tidal was a long time coming, and he supported exploring it. He also was interested in other renewable energy sources, like hydro.
Beyond working to mitigate rate increases, Bookey wasn’t sure that he could offer specific areas that need change just yet. First, he said, he has to get involved and get to the meat of the issues the board faces.
He was certain that he wanted to help make communication a two-way street.
“There’s never too much of letting ‘em know what you’re you’re doing,” Bookey said.
He also wants to get input from all members, not just those in District 1, when the board is making decisions, he said.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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