HEA will make an attempt at Railbelt funds in 2007

Posted: Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Homer Electric Association and other electric utilities around Southcentral Alaska will likely wait until a new administration takes over in Juneau before again trying to get help through the Railbelt Energy Fund.

HEA and other utilities thought they had an agreement with Gov. Frank Murkowski to include a $73.5 million appropriation in the state capital spending budget to assist Railbelt energy suppliers, according to HEA Board President Dave Carey.

HEA’s share was to be $12.5 million.

When Murkowski signed the capital budget, however, the appropriation was not there.

“He promised it would be,” Carey said.

Reversing his earlier position, the governor vetoed the appropriation.

HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke said the veto was a surprise.

“Throughout the legislative session, the governor and his staff supported the Railbelt Energy Fund plan agreed to by the utilities, the Legislature and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority,” Janorschke said.

“In fact, the governor met with several utility managers in Juneau to discuss the plan and give it his approval.”

The state Legislature attempted to override the veto, but with only 40 of its 60 members present, and a super majority of two-thirds needed to override the veto, the attempt failed, said HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher on Tuesday.

The governor came back with a new proposal, which included requiring Railbelt utilities to work together to solve Southcentral’s energy problems. Part of the plan was to restart the Healy Clean Coal plant.

When Murkowski’s new idea was presented to the Legislature during one of its special sessions this summer, it went nowhere, Gallagher said.

The governor said earlier this month he would call legislators back to Juneau again to work out a natural gas pipeline contract following the elections. The Railbelt appropriation is still on the table, but recent reports now indicate Murkowski will not call another special session

“The Railbelt Energy Fund is still there,” Gallagher said. “It doesn’t go away.

“We’ll try to work with the new administration as we worked with Murkowski,” he said.

In addition to HEA, other utilities affected by the governor’s veto include Copper Valley Electric Association, Chugach Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association, Seward Electric and Anchorage Municipal Power and Light.

According to HEA, the utilities planned to use the appropriation to upgrade existing infrastructure and develop new facilities needed to meet growing energy needs.

“We expect we’ll get back with the Legislature and the administration next year,” said Gallagher.

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