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Golden Valley members urge utility to increase use of renewable energy

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2015 KUAC file photo
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Alaska Environmental Power's wind farm near Delta Junction generates up to 2 megawatts of electricity that is sells to Golden Valley for 9 cents per kilowatt hour.

Decision to halt green-energy initiative ‘disappointing, frustrating and confusing,’ supporters say

Many Golden Valley Electric Association members are disappointed with the utility’s recent decision not to pursue a new renewable-energy project. Some of those members spoke out during this week’s Golden Valley board of directors meeting.

More than a dozen Golden Valley members told the board Tuesday that they think the co-op was wrong to halt an effort it launched in January to invite proposals on how the utility can generate more electricity with renewable-energy sources like wind, solar and hydropower.

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Tim Ellis/screenshot
Golden Valley members talked about their concerns during Tuesday's online board of directors meeting.

One of those members, Mike Musick, said “I’m very concerned that Golden Valley is kicking the carbon can down the road.” He added that the board’s decision only postpones the tough choices that Golden Valley faces on how it can generate more of its electricity with renewables.

“Please move to clean, renewable energy as soon as possible,” Musick said. “We must begin the transition to clean energy – now.”

Golden Valley President and CEO John Burns said utility’s board and management understand that many members who support more renewable power disagreed with the utility’s decision to halt work on proposals it had solicited.

“I want to acknowledge the frustration that that decision has generated amongst some of our membership,” Burns said. Golden Valley evaluated the eight proposals it received through its Request for Information process, he said, and the utility’s staff ran simulations on how the proposed renewable-power systems would work with Golden Valley’s grid. They concluded that none of the proposals would reduce the co-op’s carbon footprint.

“Those simulations showed that none of the projects would significantly reduce GVEA’s carbon emissions,” he said, “and in fact in some cases actually increased emissions.”

Burns says that’s why Golden Valley has decided to promote development of larger renewable-energy projects with other Railbelt utilities as a more effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

But most of those who spoke out Tuesday, like Jim Schwarber, were skeptical of those findings.

“This rejection by GVEA of eight renewable-energy proposals is disappointing, frustrating and confusing,” he said, “and calls into question GVEA’s sincerity about its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.”

Kenzley Defler said she and other members are alarmed that Golden Valley’s board and management is considering upgrading its 54-year-old Healy 1 power plant. Because the co-op must decide by the end of next year whether to upgrade the old coal-fired plant, or shut it down.

“In my opinion, choosing to upgrade this coal plant is a huge mistake,” she said, “and I think member owners will not stand with that, and they will not support that in any way.”

Other members, like Phil Wight, said Golden Valley’s decision is short-sighted from a business perspective, because it conflicts with efforts to reduce carbon emissions by companies like those that own the Fort Knox and Pogo gold mines, as well as major retailers and the military.

“The largest industrial users and GVEA consumers in Interior Alaska have all made tangible renewable-energy commitments, and GVEA needs to keep up,” he said.

Wight says if Golden Valley doesn’t keep up, and if the price of fossil fuels like diesel continue to rise, the utility’s budget and the Interior’s economy, may both suffer long-term damage.

“If GVEA cannot provide the clean energy those firms need, these businesses may not continue to operate locally,” he said. “Or they may develop their own renewable energy sources, independent of GVEA.”

Wight says the loss of revenue from those big customers would complicate Golden Valley’s efforts to reduce its debt and may even require the co-op to raise rates.