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GVEA schedules meetings on the fate of aging Healy 1 power plant

KUAC file photo
The 55-year-old Healy 1 power plant is located to the right of the larger and newer Healy 2 plant. Golden Valley's board of directors must decide by the end of the year whether to pay an estimated $30 million for an emissions-control system for Healy 1, or shut it down.

Golden Valley's board may vote this summer on whether to upgrade or shut down aging coal-fired power plant

Golden Valley’s management and board scheduled the meetings to explain the difficult choice ahead on what to do about the oldest power plant in the co-op’s fleet.

“There’s a lot of factors and a lot of moving pieces,” says Golden Valley spokesperson Meadow Bailey. “It’s a very complex decision that has taken almost 18 months of analysis to get to this point.”

Bailey says co-op officials scheduled the meetings to present the findings of detailed studies they’ve conducted on the 55-year-old Healy Unit 1 power plant. And to get the public’s feedback.

“We feel like we have the information gathered and we’re able to look at it and present it publicly,” she said in an interview Thursday.

Board members have until Dec. 31 to decide the issue, but Bailey says they’re likely to do so well before that deadline. And she says they’ll talk about their decision in a second set of meetings to be held later this summer.

“The board is currently planning to have a decision made during one of the June public meetings,” she said.

KUAC file graphic
The Healy 1 and 2 power plants are located in the town of Healy, about 112 miles southwest of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway.

Bailey says that’s why Golden Valley wants to present the issue to the public as soon as possible.

“There’s a long lead time for ordering supplies, scheduling contractors, obtaining any materials required for either of these scenarios,” she said. “And so we have to have the time allowed to be able to plan.”

The May 16 meeting will be held at the Tri-Valley Community Center in Healy, and the one on May 18 will be at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks. Bailey says they’ll both be open to the public in-person and also over the phone and over an online platform.

“There will be a virtual option,” she said. “We will share that information on our website and we’ll also share that publicly. We usually send out an email to our subscribers.”

The 28-megawatt Healy Unit 1 went online in 1967, and Golden Valley officials say it’s proven to be very reliable over the years. It’s also one of the co-op’s cheapest sources of electricity, second only to the Bradley Lake Hydro project. It's the older of two plants referred to collectively as the Healy Power Plant.

But 10 years ago, co-op officials agreed to either install emissions controls on Healy 1 or shut it down as part of a deal with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. In exchange for that commitment on Healy 1, the EPA allowed Golden Valley to operate the bigger, 50-megawatt Healy Unit 2 power plant located next door to Healy 1. Golden Valley bought the coal-fired Healy 2 from the Alaska Industrial Development Authority, and that plant went online in 2016.

The so-called Selective Catalytic Reduction or SCR system that Golden Valley’s board is considering for Healy 1 would reduce some emissions, including nitrous oxide, but not carbon dioxide, a climate-changing greenhouse gas. Bailey says the SCR system is estimated to cost $30 million.