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Fort Wainwright Begins Process of Replacing Old, Increasingly Inefficient Power Plant

Doyon Utilities

Fort Wainwright officials say the 65-year-old power plant that provides both heat and electricity for the post is slowly degrading and needs to be replaced. So they’re asking for public comments on a proposal that offers four alternative solutions. Anyone interested in weighing-in on the proposal must submit comments by next Wednesday.

Post officials for the past few years have increasingly worried about the reliability of the old power plant – and the worst-case scenario that could unfold if it broke down in the middle of winter, leaving most of the installation without heat.

“The Army mission here is at some risk with a single source of heat that is that old, and a distribution system that, much of it, is that old as well,” says Stephen Stringham, chief of the post’s Utilities Privatization and Maintenance Division.

Stringham says those concerns became all too real late last year after a couple of fires broke out at the plant in October, followed by an uncomfortably long power outage in December.

“We had a complete power failure, and the installation was without power for several hours,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

And because it’s a central or combined heat and power plant, most the post also was without heat during that time. Luckily, power was restored before anything froze up. But Stringham says the problems served as a sort of wakeup call for post officials.

“With older equipment, if it’s going to break down it’s going to break down you least want it to break down – when you most need it,” he said.

That sort of catastrophic failure is the main reason post officials have begun the process of compiling a draft Environmental Impact Statement on their proposal to build a new power plant. Stringham says post officials also are concerned about the facility’s inefficiency, both because it’s aging and because it’s being run at less-than-full capacity, to keep its emissions from exceeding federal air-quality regulations.

“So as this degradation goes on, due to age, then we have this looming specter of being able to produce even less heat,” he said. “And that’s our main heat source for the installation.”

Stringham says post officials can’t say whether the power plant will have problems meeting the more stringent air-quality standards that the state is likely to impose at the end of this year, in an attempt to reduce the area’s excessive air-polluting particles known as PM2.5. Those measures are expected to be included in a federally mandated State Implementation Plan, or SIP.

“We really don’t know for certain what that SIP will be until it’s finalized by the EPA,” he said. “So it’s a bit up in the air.”

But Stringham says once the SIP is imposed, Fort Wainwright’s 17-megawatt power plant, along with all other sources of PM2.5 in the so-called nonattainment area around Fairbanks, must abide by it. He says the post is getting work done on all three of the 25-megawatt power plant’s turbines to boost efficiency.

“Two are being overhauled, one is being repaired somewhat,” he said, “and that is going to go on until October.”

Because of that work, he says the post is buying more electricity from Golden Valley Electric Association – up from 5 megawatts to 7, and sometimes as high as 10.

Stringham says the situation is not yet an emergency, but he says it would be best if the power plant were replaced sooner rather than later, with either a new coal-fired facility, or one of two differently fueled and configured power-generating systems, as outlined in the Draft EIS that Fort Wainwright officials are now working on. He says post officials urge all Fairbanks-area residents to take a look at the document on the installation’s website, and to submit their comments no later than Wednesday.

Editor's Note: To find out more about the power plant reaplcement project, click here.

To submit comments on the proposal to replace Fort Wainwright's old power plant, Laura Sample, Fort Wainwright’s NEPA program manager, by email at or by U.S. mail at:
Directorate of Public Works
ATTN:  IMFW-PWE (L. Sample)
1046 Marks Road #6000
Fort Wainwright, AK 99703-6000

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.