First of all, thank you to all our members who attended the HEA 2010 Annual Meeting in Kenai last month. The turnout was great, with over 500 people on hand to enjoy some food and refreshments and gather information about our electric cooperative. It was especially nice to see so many families in attendance! We added a few new activities to our Annual Meeting this year, including a live Safety Demonstration that used energized lines to show why it is so important to stay clear of all power lines. I hope the information was useful and would encourage you to contact me if you have some ideas on how to improve our Annual Meeting next year.
A couple of items were brought before the Board at the Annual Meeting that I would like to follow up on. One advisory motion that was approved by a vote of the members present called for the publication of Board expenses and reimbursements on a regular basis. That advisory motion was reviewed by the Board and will be implemented. The information regarding Board expenses will be published on a quarterly basis in the HEA newsletter and will also be posted on HEA's website.
Another question raised during the Annual Meeting focused on a decision made several years ago by the Board to out-source HEA's billing and remittance to a cooperative in Georgia. The decision to work with Southeastern Data Cooperative (SEDC) was based on several factors, including financial considerations. SEDC handles the billing systems for over 200 electric utilities and is able to provide support and technology that individual cooperatives simply cannot afford on their own.
That being said, HEA realizes the importance of keeping jobs on the Kenai Peninsula. The Board will be looking at the billing process and explore options that may be available to HEA and other cooperatives in Alaska. It's important to note that supporting the local economy is a top priority at HEA. The switch to SEDC did not result in the loss of any jobs at HEA. Some of the employees actually had to retire early due to repetitive motion injuries incurred in the payment processing job and others were re-assigned to new positions.
In addition, HEA spends a substantial amount of money each year with vendors on the Kenai Peninsula and most importantly, our 137 full time employees are all residents of the Kenai Peninsula. They are active in many social and economic activities that benefit the quality of life on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Annual Meeting also provided an opportunity to update the membership on the progress of HEA's power generation plan, Independent Light. As many of our members know, HEA's power supply contract with Chugach Electric expires at the end of 2013. After that date, HEA will take care of its own generation requirements. The main component of Independent Light is the addition of a steam turbine at our existing Nikiski generation plant. This turbine, using steam as the primary fuel, will be able to nearly double the output of the current 40 megawatt plant. The turbine for the project has been ordered and we are moving full steam ahead (pun intended) with Independent Light and hope to have the new turbine on line in early 2013.
I like to think of Independent Light as our "Bridge to the Future." This project will be able to take care of HEA's power generation needs for the near term and put us in a good position to take advantage of large scale renewable projects that may come on line down the road. Mega energy projects like Mount Spurr geothermal or the Susitna hydro project, are potentially viable projects that could supply sustainable electricity to the Railbelt. I am hopeful that someday one or both of these projects will be built. The lead time to research, permit and construct these projects is significant. Although the geothermal project could become a reality sooner, it will be at least another 10-15 years before the larger Susitna project is producing power and even longer if history is any indication.
I encourage you to visit our website on a regular basis for updates on HEA projects and events. And as always, my door is open and I welcome comments and suggestions you may have. Enjoy the great Alaska summer and I look forward to seeing you at our regional meetings in the fall.
Brad Janorschke is HEA's general manager.
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