GVEA board partially supports renewable-energy legislation
Climate activists laud co-op’s efforts to cut fossil-fuel use, urge board to back SB101 carbon-reducing ‘concept’
Golden Valley Electric Association’s board of directors is expressing support for legislation that would require Alaska utilities to use more renewable-energy sources like wind and solar to generate power. But board members also raised concerns about provisions in the measure that could discourage utilities from using more renewables.
In its meeting Tuesday, Golden Valley’s board weighed-in on Senate Bill 101 by approving a position paper that states its support for greater use of renewable energy sources to reduce the co-op’s carbon footprint, as shown by its nearly 20-year effort to cut its use of fossil fuels.
“We’ve demonstrated that commitment with past goals of renewable percentages as far back as 2005, followed by a pioneering carbon-reduction goal in 2019,” board member Gary Newman said. He added that the document also expresses the directors’ opposition to some of SB101’s provisions, including penalties on utilities that fail to meet goals for increasing their use of renewable energy on a schedule set by the legislation.
The state House also is considering renewable portfolio standards legislation —HB121.
“We do take issue with the mandated measures that could impose costs on GVEA members, or significantly reduce reliability,” he said.
SB101 would require the utilities to generate at least a quarter of their electricity with renewables within four years, increasing to 80 percent in 17 years. Newman says the position paper urges lawmakers to allow greater latitude on how utilities can meet those deadlines.
“We’re not just saying no,” he said. “We’re actually saying ‘OK, this is what’s needed to meet those goals.’ ”
Board chair Tom DeLong says Governor Mike Dunleavy introduced the bill last year, but it failed to gain enough support and stalled, then it was picked up by lawmakers this session. He says Railbelt utilities are closely watching its progress.
“It’s getting a lot of attention this year,” DeLong said, “and we think it’s very valuable for our legislators and staff and everyone else to understand Golden Valley’s position.”
DeLong says the board hopes the position paper will help guide other utilities -- and lawmakers.
“We hope that’s helpful to the sausage-making factory down in Juneau as they pick this up,” he said wryly.
About a half-dozen opponents of the legislation spoke during the meeting, along with a dozen supporters who urged the board to support the legislation. Former Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly member and ex-state representative John Davies said board members should back it, despite their reservations.
“We hope that you can find a way to support that -- maybe not support the bill as written, but support the concept,” he said.
Davies and about 20 other members of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition braved the 30-below-zero chill to stage an hourlong rally in front of Golden Valley’s Fairbanks office before Tuesday’s meeting. Back inside, he told board it should bring even more renewables online by approving two big wind projects near Fairbanks and Delta Junction.
“With all deliberate speed, we want them to prioritize that,” he said. “We want them to make that happen as possible.”
Davies said Wednesday that coalition members want the board to approve the 38-megawatt Ameresco wind project in Delta now, so construction can begin this year. And he says language in the board’s position paper gives him hope that might happen.
“It had some pretty strong statements in it about GVEA’s commitment to bringing wind and battery systems in particular online,” he said.
Coalition member Mike Musick said the proposed 100-megawatt Shovel Creek wind farm project near Fairbanks requires more study, but he said the Ameresco project only needs the go-ahead.
“They’re shovel ready,” Musick said. “They’re ready to get going this spring.”
Board members have made no commitment on the projects. But they did authorize President and CEO John Burns to negotiate a one-year power sales agreement with Chugach Electric to enable Golden Valley to buy that utility’s lower-cost power generated with natural gas.