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Air Force, GVEA Planning to Connect Clear AFS to Grid, Shut Down Power Plant

U.S. Air Force

Golden Valley Electric Association is scheduled to lose one of its biggest customers this week – the Flint Hills Resources refinery in North Pole. But GVEA is working on plans to hook up another industrial customer next year that will buy nearly as much electricity as the refinery.

The Air Force and GVEAare working on plans to connect Clear Air Force Station to the grid next year – and shut down the 22.5-megawatt coal-fired powerplant that’s been generating electricity for the station since it was built in 1959.

GVEA Vice President for Engineering Mike Wright says the Clear station is now a GVEA member. And he says when it’s connected to GVEA’s system in the fall of next year, the Air Force will being paying an estimated $5.2 million annually – which will offset most of what Flint Hills is now paying GVEA.

“We lost about $2 to $3 million in revenue, so this is kind of filling that gap back up,” he said. “So it’s a positive thing for our ratepayers to have this new load come onto our system.”

Wright says the big radar and other  facilities at Clear will need an average of about 4 megawatts of power, with occasional peak loads of up to around 7 megawatts.

“We just lost the refinery, which was about a 7 to 8 megawatt load,” he said, “so this is fitting right in with what we lost with the refinery.”

Wright says GVEA ratepayers won’t have to foot the bill to hook the station to the grid, because next year the Air Force proposes to build a substation and 3-mile-long distribution line from GVEA’s main transmission line that runs down the Parks Highway.

He says because the Air Force is paying for those distribution facilities, GVEA is charging an effective rate of only about 15 cents per kilowatt hour. He says that’s the same rate it charges for its other larger industrial customers.

“They’ll be a standard GS-3 member that pays bills just like Pogo Mine, Fort Knox, Fort Greely, Ground-based Missile Defense, (and) others that take power at this level,” Wright said.

The station commander at Clear couldn’t comment about the plans, because her higher headquarters, the Air Force Space Command, wouldn’t authorize an interview.

Wright says the Air Force must build a few other facilities before the station can connect to the grid – most importantly, a steam-heat plant, which would burn fuel oil. That’s needed because the station is now being heated by steam generated by the powerplant.

“Once they put their new steam boiler in, they’ll commission that, then they’ll go on us for a while, then shortly thereafter they’ll shut the plant down,” he said. “I don’t know what their plans are for decommissioning. That could be at some point in the future. It could just sit idle for quite a few years.”

That’s what members of the local chapter of the federal employees union would like to see happen. Don Pierce is the legislative and political coordinator for American Federation of Government Employees Local 1836. Pierce says the Local has long supported the idea of hooking the station up to GVEA, even though they have concerns about other parts of the plan, especially some of its cost estimates and assumptions. The Air Force wants to shut down the power plant to save money.

But Pierce says he and others oppose the Air Force’s plan to decommission the power plant. He says the facility can and should instead be used to generate electricity for GVEA, because it would offset the use of expensive fuels like diesel that the utility uses in some of its powerplants.

“It just does not make any fiscal sense at this time to remove a coal-fired cogeneration source from the equation,” he said. “Not in our current energy situation.”

Wright says GVEA is not interested in buying or operating the plant. And he says GVEA has plenty of generating capacity, especially once its 50-megawatt coal-fired Healy 2 powerplant begins operation next year.

Pierce, who works at Clear’s power plant, says Local 1836 will continue to press its case with the state’s congressional delegation and others to keep the powerplant operational.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.