Golden Valley Electric Association has pledged to reduce the amount of climate-changing carbon its power plants emit by 26 percent, based on 2012 levels, over the next 11 years. Members of environmental groups welcome the so-called Green Goals approved last week by Golden Valley’s board of directors. And they’re challenging the co-op to set its carbon-reduction goals even higher.
The package of proposals approved by the board includes several strategies for reducing carbon emissions – mainly the carbon dioxide or CO2 produced by combustion of fossil fuels like the coal and diesel the co-op mainly uses to generate power.
“We recognize that the CO2 emissions are problematic (for) our environment, and that we want to make sure we do everything we can to reduce those,” says Golden Valley President and CEO Cory Borgeson.
He says the proposals include greater emphasis on energy conservation by “helping our members use less energy.”
Also, more efficient operation of its power plants, “Therefore, they produce more electricity with the same amount of CO,” he said.
“We have four additional pads up at Eva Creek, where we could put in four more wind turbines,” Borgeson said. “And we certainly have the ability to put more solar farms in place.”
Members of both the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition applauded Golden Valley’s Green Goals. The coalition’s Tristan Glowa says it’s a good starting point.
“That’s great to see,” he said, “but I think we also have to say that’s definitely not anywhere near enough.”
Glowa says Golden Valley and utilities worldwide must set more ambitious carbon-reduction goals in order to reduce the catastrophic impacts of global warming, like those described in an October report by the International Panel on Climate Change.
“It’s saying that avoiding the worst of climate change is going to require really, really major cuts to emissions globally by 2030,” he said.
Glowa says Golden Valley should consider bolder reductions, like those announced last month by Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy to cut 80 percent of its carbon emissions by 2030. And even more over in the decades that follow.
“Eighty percent – with the goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.”
Borgeson says the Golden Valley board arrived at the 26-percent figure with input from groups representing such interests as environmental advocates and senior citizens on a fixed income. He says the co-op’s management and staff came up with a plan that incorporates their concerns, but also limits the impact on ratepayers.
“We just can’t go out and spend a bunch of money and raise everybody’s rates to do this,” Borgeson said. “We have to do it without any long-term adverse impact on rates.”
Glowa says many Golden Valley members have been pushing the co-op for deeper carbon-emission reductions, and greater use of renewable-power sources to accomplish that. He suggests the Golden Valley board can take a big step in that direction by shutting down the coal-fired, 28-megawatt Healy 1 power plant.
“Particularly as we’re looking toward transitioning towards more renewable sources,” he said, “it’s really hard for me to see how coal-fired power plants play a big part of that.”
Shutting down Healy 1 is not on the Green Goals list. But both Golden Valley and the Climate Action Coalition strongly support proposals that promote greater cooperation among all the Railbelt utilities. Borgeson says that could help boost renewable energy use on Golden Valley’s end of the grid and hold down costs.
He says the co-op will provide details about Green Goals at the annual members meeting in May.
Editor's note: This story was revised to clarify that GVEA pledges to reduce emissions by 26 percent, based on 2012 emissions levels, over the next 11 years.