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Army Considers 4 Plans to Repair or Replace Fort Wainwright’s Old Heat and Power Plant

KUAC file photo

Army officials have begun the process of deciding whether to repair or replace Fort Wainwright’s old heat and power plant. They’re asking the public to weigh in on four proposed solutions laid-out in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement before Dec. 9.

The Draft EIS released last month says several malfunctions in recent years have knocked the 20-megawatt plant off-line and left Fort Wainwright without heat – in one case a couple of years ago for several hours on a cold December day. But the document says unreliability is only one of the reasons the Army’s proposing to upgrade or replace the plant, which has been operating for 65 years now – about 30 years longer than it was designed to run.

“I’m told it is now the oldest coal-fired power plant in the United States, still in operation,” says Jennifer Meyer, chief of the post’s Directorate of Public Works operations and maintenance division.

Meyer says upgrades over the years have kept the plant running and in compliance with state and federal regulations. But in order to keep its emissions from exceeding air-quality regs, post officials have had to throttle it back to run at the very-inefficient rate of 42 percent of capacity. The Draft EIS says that’s one of the reasons why the plant is one of the Army’s most expensive to operate. But Meyer says the facility would be upgraded to run more cleanly and efficiently if the Army decides to keep it in operation.

“All alternatives will meet all regulatory requirements, no matter what action alternative is chosen,” she said in an interview last month.

The document says that so-called “no-action alternative” would require up to $235 million of major repairs and upgrades to generate the necessary 45 megawatts equivalent of heat and power. That’s far less than the cost of one alternative that calls for building a new coal-fired power plant, which is estimated to cost $687 million dollars. But Meyer says cost of construction is only one of many considerations taken into account in comparing the four alternatives.

“It is a factor,” she said, “but, again, the Environmental Impact Statement looks at a number of factors when it analyzes the proposed action.”

Credit U.S. Army
An architectural rendering of Alternative 2 in the Draft EIS: a dual-fuel combustion turbine generator central heat and power plant.

Those other factors include low upfront cost and the ongoing expense of operations and maintenance, as well as socioeconomic and environmental issues and military-specific considerations, like what the Draft EIS calls “fuel-source resiliency,” or redundancy. That’s the ability to ensure an adequate fuel supply. The document says that factor is met by a so-called “dual-fueled” alternative that calls for construction of a heat and power plant that could run on natural gas or diesel. That project is estimated to cost $363 million.

“That also helps meet Army redundancy requirements for fuel sources,” Meyer said.

The least-expensive of the alternatives also would be dual-fueled – the $117 million proposal to build facilities that would only generate heat, and the post would rely on Golden Valley Electric Association for power. That alternative calls for construction of several natural-gas-fired boilers around the post, and placement of diesel-fired generators to back up both the electrical-power and heat systems.

Credit U.S. Army
Architectural rendering of Alternative 3, which calls for construction of several high-efficiency natural gas-fired combustion turbine boilers around Fort Wainwright that also could burn diesel. The boilers would provide heat and backup power, but on a day-to-day basis the post would get its electricity from Golden Valley Electric Association.

The 462-page Draft EIS includes detailed information on each alternative, and it can be downloaded from the Fort Wainwright website. Laura Sample, the post official who oversees the EIS process, says the Army is encouraging the public to check out the document and submit comments on it before Dec. 9.

“There are multiple ways you can submit comments,” she said. “You can do so on our website. You can do so through the project email. You can send us a letter. And then you can call in during the public meeting.

The telephonic meeting scheduled for next Monday, Nov. 9, also can be accessed online. More information is available on the Fort Wainwright website and post Public Affairs Office.

Editor's note: The Draft EIS and other documents and information about the power plant project is available here.

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.