Upgrade, Shut Down or Postpone: GVEA Board Candidates' Ponder Fate of Old Power Plant

Jun 8, 2020

Golden Valley Electric Association is facing a deadline on whether to upgrade or shut down its oldest and most reliable power plant. The utility’s board of directors must decide over the next couple of years whether to pay up to 50-million dollars to install a new pollution-control system on the coal-fired Healy Unit 1. And two candidates running for the most hotly contested seat in this year’s board elections differ on how they’d decide the issue.


The 53-year-old Healy 1 power plant is Golden Valley’s cheapest and most reliable source of electricity. That’s why Alison Carter and Rick Solie both say the decision on whether to keep the plant operating may be one of the most important they’d make, if elected to the board.

The 50-megawatt Healy 2 power plant, left, towers over the 28-megawatt Healy 1 power plant. Both of the coal-fired plants are located in the town of Healy, a few miles from their fuel source: the Usibelli Coal Mine.
Credit KUAC file photo

And they agree the decision should be based on two major factors:

“Impact on rates, impact on reliability,” says Carter, who adds that she’s keeping an open mind on the Healy 1 upgrade. She wants to hear all sides of the issue and use her experience as a retired certified public accountant and financial analyst in deciding whether to the board should go ahead with the upgraded or shut the plant down.

Solie’s a businessman and consultant, and he says he’s inclined to keep it operational.

“It’s old, but actually as long it’s maintained, it can run virtually forever,” he said.

That may be, but Golden Valley also will have to upgrade its emissions-control system to comply with a 2012 agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency as art of a deal to re-start the larger, problem-plagued Healy 2 power plant. The consent decree required Golden Valley to install a pollution-control system on the power plant and then decide by the end of 2022 whether to upgrade that to a more efficient system.

“I think if we can find a cost-effective solution to meeting the environmental requirements for Healy 1, we should do that,” Solie said.

Golden Valley senior management has estimated the so-called Selective Catalytic Reduction system would cost somewhere between $30 million to $50 million. The system would reduce some emissions, including nitrous oxide, but not carbon dioxide -- a climate-changing greenhouse gas.

“It’s a significant amount of money and the ratepayers deserve some hard analysis on that,” he said.

Carter outlined how she’s conduct that analysis.

“We need to know how much the upgrade is going to cost,” she said. “What would it do to the efficiency of the plant? What’s the useful life remaining on this 50-year-old plant?”

Carter says the board needs answers to those questions along with an analysis of the tradeoffs involved in going ahead with the upgrade, instead of paying for other important needs.

“Every time you invest in a major project that way, you’re choosing to not use that money for something else,” she said.

Carter says she hopes a Golden Valley study on the Healy 1 issue will address the consequences of shutting down the 28-megawatt power plant and identify alternative sources of power sources.

Solie hopes that won’t be necessary. He’s optimistic that Golden Valley will convince EPA to allow the co-op to use a cheaper emissions-control system that’s still in development. And he hopes co-op can get EPA to grant a six-year extension to study other technologies.

“An extension frankly would allow for technological advancements to potentially improve options for that Healy 1 plant, as well,” he said.

Carter says she’s hopeful that another study being done by University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for Energy and Power, or ACEP, might offer some alternatives the Golden Valley board might want to consider.    

“I would want to hear their report and see what other new technologies could be available soon,” she said.

Carter says the ACEP study also could help Golden Valley meet its goal of reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent within the next 10 years. Solie says he believes the carbon-reduction goal isn’t as important as keeping ratepayers’ bills from increasing.

“Golden Valley has the highest electric rates in the state right now,” he said, “and so we need to be very careful about pushing a new agenda onto the ratepayers that adds cost.”

Carter says she’s also focused on keeping members’ rates low. She says she knows firsthand how important that is, both through her service on Golden Valley’s Member Advisory Committee and her job as an attorney for domestic violence victims.

“A huge percentage of our population just simply cannot afford to pay their rent, and pay their electric bill, and put food on the table,” she said.

Voting for the District 3 board seat and two others that up for election this year ends at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The winners will be announced during the board’s June 22nd meeting.

Editor's note: Golden Valley members must cast their votes  for the candidates running for the District 1, 2 and 3 seats by 5 p.m. Tuesday. More information about the election is available by calling the co-op’s Election Helpline at (855) 761-9111 or emailing goldenvalley@alaska-cpas.com