The Homer Electric Association Board of Directors elections this year have drawn extra attention due to skyrocketing electricity rates, dwindling natural gas reserves, questions over coal power, the pursuit of renewable energy sources and a proposal to merge elements of the Railbelt utilities.
Ballots were mailed out Friday and are due May 6, or HEA members may attend the annual meeting May 7 at Homer High School in Homer to cast their vote. Eleven candidates are seeking three seats in three districts. District 1 covers Kenai, Nikiski and parts of the Soldotna area. District 2 is Soldotna, Sterling and Kasilof. District 3 is Kasilof south to Kachemak Bay area. Members may only vote for one candidate in their district.
Following are questions asked of each candidate and their answers. Candidates’ resumes can be found online at www.homerelectric.com.
1. Gov. Sarah Palin has suggested merging the power generation and transportation functions of the Railbelt electric utilities, which is now being considered by the Legislature. Do you support this move? Why or why not?
2. What’s your take on renewables?
3. Do you support the proposed hydropower projects near Moose Pass? Why or why not?
4. Do you support HEA’s involvement with the Healy coal facility? Why or why not?
5. HEA’s contract to purchase wholesale power with Chugach Electric will be up in 2014. What should be done to secure a sustainable power supply for HEA?
6. What should be done to stabilize and/or lower rates for HEA members?
7. Are there any other issues facing HEA that are a priority for you?
1. “The bottom line on anything is my pocketbook, so, financially, if it’s the right thing to do. We don’t want to get into a boondoggle. It sounds like a good idea because it would give us the strength to build whatever we got to to give us a stable power rate.”
2. “I guess you can’t beat it. I look at like the dams and stuff like that where you don’t have no pollution and stuff where you have a lifeline of power, and the same thing with wind power. The bottom line is cost, it always comes back to that. The people who have to put food on the table and stuff like that have to watch the bottom line.”
3. “I know they’re doing studies as far as what, economically, what’s the most feasible. If you can’t get anything pushed through, what can be done? You can’t hurt the fish. If we can build small dams that don’t mess up the community too much, and the bottom line is if the community don’t want it, it’s not a good deal either. You can’t push it down their throat.”
4. “Back to the dollar sign again, if we can do it economically. … You want to make sure the smokestacks are burning clean, but I guess you have to look at it because you have coal everywhere you look — it’s all over. I don’t know about a long-term contract, maybe just something to carry us over until we get something renewable that everybody can agree on.”
5. “Whatever we do, if we get together with other utilities in the state, and we gotta make sure we have some kind of control over the price, as far as how it affects our bills and stuff like that. You can’t in the middle of winter find 20, 30 percent increase in their bill. People on a real tight budget, it’s just too much for them.”
6. “Basically the direction they’re going with the study group out there is seeing what’s the most viable thing we can do, with the bottom line being the cost and affecting the rate payers. All those options, (wind, solar) sound good, we just gotta use some common sense and get a stable power source that’s affordable for everyone.”
7. “No. Over the years it seems like a really solid organization.”
1. “I’m not necessarily a proponent of it. … From what my understanding of it is, it wouldn’t necessarily allow a local co-op like ours to meet the specific needs of our members, by taking control (away), which, I’m sure control would leave us here and go to a distant location. That is not usually a good direction.”
2. “I’m for them. I think it’s something that’s an ideal long-term goal, but I also know not every renewable source out there has true economic viability to use in a commercial application, such as a major utility. But, you know, it’s an avenue that needs to be actively pursued with the utility.”
3. “I think that they’re a good direction in the sense they are renewable. One of the biggest concerns we could have with them is they are small scale, so a lot of the overhead costs (environmental studies, engineering costs, etc.) will be almost the same as a large-scale project. … As far as their impact, there is no perfect project. They’re always going to impact somebody. Unfortunately, maybe here it may just seem like the lesser of the evils that are out there.”
4. “I support the diversification direction, for sure. Whether this is the best direction or best step I can’t tell you right now. It’s something they’re looking at to analyze what are the other alternatives out there, is this the first one that came to the door or the best one to pursue in light of the other alternatives that are out there?”
5. “We’ve been fortunate to have a low-cost power source with natural gas. That era I think is coming to a close. … Once we know the alternatives we can weigh which direction or generation source would give us the best benefit. Not necessarily cost, but also overall impact on people.”
6. “The more our production sources are diversified, the more stable our rates will be. It’s a principle that’s been applied to a variety of industries and types of businesses. … Tied with that is a certain amount of efficiency must be monitored. That’s the job of the board. … Cost controls and efficiency, combine the two and that will give us price stability.”
7. “I’m not critical of anybody. … They do represent the membership, so as such I think they do as good a job as any board can be expected to do.”
1. “I strongly support this. … Every time a kilowatt of power passes through someone else’s hands it costs us. … Right now, we HEA members own about 12 percent of the power that’s generated at Bradley Lake, that’s all we can use of that. The rest of that belongs to other co-op power companies and they sell it back to us. With a generation co-op, wherever it’s generated it will be used there first.”
2. “Those are all terrific. I think that we should be exploring those and moving to them as quickly as possible, but it’s going to be very expensive to do that.”
Fassler noted concerns about the noise wind turbines may generate, and about reliability of wind on calm days and of solar in the winter, and also said he’d like to see tidal power, possibly attached to drilling platforms in Cook Inlet.
3. “I haven’t seen the studies on those, I would support them if its not going to cause problems with spawning and etc.”
4. “Yes I do. One of the things that I understand is that the state wants Homer Electric to enter into a 25-year contract. I think we should go in increments of five, but we definitely need to be looking at power from that source again in order to get through to the point where wind or whatever will take it over. I would just as soon we do not burn coal, but the technology to get us to wind and solar — we need a bridge to get from here to whenever that would be.”
5. “We need to look to coal, we need to look to solar, we need to look to wind and water.”
6. “I think that we need to have the lowest possible rates. The economy the way it is today, hopefully the job loss from the Lower 48 isn’t going to hit us as hard as it has down there, but I’ve run into people who just can’t afford their Enstar and HEA bills and still eat. I really do believe we need to keep them down as low as possible. I’m not going to try to tell you I’m going to lower rates — that would be like the president saying I’m going to cut out all your taxes — that’s a lie. But I’m going to do everything I can to keep them as low as possible and still be sustainable.”
1. “My first thought is that I would be very apprehensive to merge all the utilities, there’s different equity in each of them and the local control is important.”
2. “I’m supportive of renewables, but I think we have to realize our base load on the coldest day in the middle of winter, we’re not going to have any wind and there’s no sun. We’re going to have to rely on natural gas or coal.”
3. “I don’t know the details but I’m supportive of hydro power in general and suspect that I would be supportive of those projects.”
4. “Again, I don’t have the detailed knowledge on that issue, but I do support coal power generation. I think it’s an economically feasible resource that we need to take advantage of.”
5. “That’s the biggest question out there because it affects rates. Long-tem I think we need to work hard to find a good answer to that. If I get elected I’ll be working positively with all the other utilities around the state to address that issue and find a long-term, stable source of electric power for everybody.”
6. “I believe they need to be stabilized and lowered. My experience working at the borough for the borough mayor’s office, I have extensive knowledge of how to read and understand a budget. I think HEA’s a big organization and needs to have strong leadership at the board level to make sure that a good budget is adopted and adhered to so that we don’t incur expenses that are out of line and force our rates up.”
7. “I think the biggest issue out there is skyrocketing rates that they’re basically out of control, and the utility needs to address them and find a solution. This is my fourth time running for the HEA board. I really look forward to getting elected and representing the members of the association.”
1. “Yes, I support it. I think that’s one of things making our utilities so high, pretty much (Chugach) has us where they want us. They charge us obscene rates for our electricity. I think if it’s consolidated, I think it would help us.”
2. “Renewables up here are going to be tough. Those 60-foot blades on them wind generators. Everyone that you talk to says they’re an eyesore. I think there are places in Alaska where people could agree to put them, but right now the biggest problem is the storage. I think we have other ways to go right now.”
3. “It’s a good idea if it’s not cost prohibitive. I think a lot of it would have to do with the bids on what’s out there to build it. The other thing is the permitting, that’s going to be the hard one.”
4. “Yes, I think that that would be one of our best options if we could get a tie-in up there and burn our coal instead of sending it to, right now it’s going to Korea and other places. I think if we could burn our own coal here I think it would be better for the environment all around.”
5. “Everybody’s talking about the (natural gas) bullet line with the price of natural gas where it is and getting permits and being able to build the bullet line in a feasible amount of time. I think it’s going to be a real challenge. I think HEA has quite a few options open to them. I think HEA itself has a lot of costs they can reduce, but nobody seems to be in the cost-reducing mode.”
6. “The biggest thing is to get a low-cost power supply. … I believe coal is going to be one of our best options, being that the natural gas on the peninsula, the supplies are going down. … I think that’s a big one we’ll have to face is what can we do now to ensure power within the next five years?”
7. “(I don’t want to sound anti-growth, but) somewhere down the line it’s going to get where HEA has got to screen how much new growth can come into our community because there’s not enough electricity to go around. With Wal-Mart coming in, and if Pebble Mine gets built, our community now is at the point where, how do we let new businesses in when we can’t provide power for them?”
1. “I think that some kind of coming together and getting rates down for everyone is a good idea. The part I’m not sure about is whether or not it’s necessary — and it may be in the future, but not today — to eliminate or do away with the six Railbelt utilities and make them into one.”
2. “They don’t really add to the base load capacity to keep the lights on. What it does is it helps with peaking. … We must go to renewables. Here on the peninsula there are tons of options. … We have to evaluate the tradeoffs of the cost versus what we get for it.”
3. “The one at Grant Lake seems to be the most proactive and I do support it and I’m a big fly fisherman, by the way. I’m very pro-environment and pro-fishing.”
4. “I do, and the reason is that HEA is not going to own a coal-fired plant. We are only going to buy power. We need to diversify off of natural gas, and that is where that 200 years of coal supply is. Right now they’ve been running unit one cleanly, and I’m impressed with it. If and when they get unit two going, that’s when we will be buying power, which should theoretically be less cost to our ratepayers because coal should be cheaper than natural gas.”
5. “We may get into another deal with them and we may not. We won’t do it if it isn’t right for our members since it’s pre-negotiated. … If that greater Railbelt thing in some form goes forward, that issue may go away anyway.”
6. “I would like to see how (merging Railbelt utilities and creating one, “postage stamp” price for all members) that’s going to work. I would be for it if it’s going lower our rates. If it’s going to raise rates for our members, I’m not for it. We’re just not there yet. It’s a new notion.”
7. “Unity of the board. There is, and I’m not implying that there’s friction, but I think that we all need to have a plan and support the plan. There are a few who certainly are entitled to their views and opinions that don’t share the view of the majority right now. I think everybody wants what’s right for all the members but how we get there is an issue.”
1. “That’s a hard question to answer. I’m not really familiar with it. … I wouldn’t know why that wouldn’t be a good thing if it’s managed properly and handled correctly, I think everybody could gain from that.”
2. “I really think Homer Electric needs to take a real close look at the options and get into renewable sources just as fast and as quick as we can, and what we can afford. Certainly for renewable wind energy, solar, tidal, whatever it may be, I think we need to take a close look at it.”
3. “I do support it for the simple fact it is a renewable type of energy. It is something that we can count on, I think, for the only reason it’s not using fossil fuels. It is something that we can pull off of nature and utilize.”
4. “I think it would be a great partnership. If we can satisfy the environmental needs, keep it a clean coal-burning plant, I think that would be great. But I’m not sure we can afford it in today’s industry in Alaska, to meet all the necessary emissions. … I’m leaving my options open on that one.”
5. “We get back to renewable resources — wind, solar, whatever. … We need to have the energy that we control. We need to be in the saddle. We need to be in control of the energy that we receive and distribute, versus relying on someone else to make it work for us.”
6. “I’m not quite sure but I do think that the renewable energy is what the key is. It’s going to be a major investment, but I think in the long term that’s the best way to go. As long as we’re relying on another entity to supply us with the energy like it is today, it’s very difficult to stabilize it because of the demands and of the increases and decreases of fossil fuels.”
7. “The only priority I have is to speak for the membership. My personal views are the bottom of the priority list. My number one priority is to listen to the members and do what the members want. I may not always agree with it, but if the body as a whole wishes it to go a certain direction, that’s the direction I will vote on.”
1. “I guess in concept I support it. It seems like a pretty good idea as long as we get what I consider to be the right kind of energy mix, which would be a lot more renewables than what we’re doing right now. I guess I wouldn’t support it if it’s going to be more of the same, more coal and what not. I think it would be economical to have all the utilities joined together, there’s obviously some kind of economy of scale.”
2. “I’m highly in favor of them. I think it’s really the wave of the future. … Solar, wind and the ocean, we have so much potential down here for those types of energy power generation. … A lot of different systems are up and running and ready to be used around the world.”
3. “In general I think that hydropower’s a good thing. It needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Obviously whenever you dam a waterway there’s always going be some conflict, so you need to be really careful in that respect.”
4. “I don’t think that they know all the costs involved, so I don’t think that it’s a wise move. I don’t think they should get involved for 50 years. … The Healy plant in particular has never been operated successfully yet. I don’t have any idea what it will cost to operate successfully, if they even can. I think renewable is a much better way to go and trying to go to a coal facility is just sort of looking backwards instead of forward.”
5. “I think a temporary solution would be just to continue with the natural gas system. I think natural gas is a more, I don’t know, earth-friendly means of supplying power in the meantime, until we can get renewable systems online and operating.”
6. “I think moving toward renewables will start to stabilize the rates because there’s no fuel costs once you get these systems up and running. On a more short-term basis, we just need to kind of watch our pennies and see what we can do to keep the costs in line while we’re developing these other systems.”
7. “I would like to see a much more open and transparent type of board meetings where you invite the co-op members to participate, rather than, from what I can see, consider them to be kind of a problem to get around.”
1. “Well, I don’t support Enron and that’s how I see it. The economies of scale idea is completely blown out of shape. … There’s no way you could combine these co-ops without taking them into the state or private industry, and I believe HEA is trying to privatize itself.”
2. “If they’re economical I think it’s a great idea. HEA historically does not like renweables, contrary to SNAP, which is bulls---. I like renewables, I think it’s a great idea. I want to know why don’t we have more than 12 percent of the power from Bradley Lake for the peninsula. Actually, I know why — it was purely legislative and politics.”
3. “I’m generally favorable but want to see more details. I start to hear the issue about salmon, but salmon are brought up to knock down everything in this state and we have got to have a balance. If they’re not going to make a significant, say 10 percent, cut in the salmon, I think we need to set that aside because we have other things that are important on this peninsula.”
4. “Whether or not coal power is good or bad is besides the point. You never buy into something where the title is clouded and the management of it is also clouded. That’s been the situation with MEA and the state and we shouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.”
5. “We need to drill gas wells. HEA needs to contract for gas wells and can put a generator on the top of each one of them. It’s cheaper than sending it through a pipe. We’re in trouble because we haven’t acted as a G and T (generation and transmission), just a transmission utility. We do have a little generation ability but we need to hire the expertise.”
6. “They have to plan ahead. They have all sorts of capital credit money that can be used to balance out the fluctuations between the cost of energy and what it is. What happened with the December, January, February deals was uncalled for for a member-owned co-op. I think the members need to take co-op back from the industrial people who would privatize it and don’t give a damn about their customers.”
7. “The policies that affect the owner member, the customers. The policies need to be reviewed and checked and modified for the benefit of the owner member. I want the co-op back for the cooperative.”
1. It’s difficult to take a position on the governor’s proposal when it is still a moving target. I have reviewed the draft proposal dated Feb 11, 2009. I’ve reviewed SB143 and HB182 and have been monitoring the continuing discussions. That said, I could support a unified transmission grid by which there would be a postage stamp rate for wheeling, thereby standardizing the rate for wheeling for all utilities. In some cases this could lead to a significant savings.
2. Renewables must be an important part of HEA’s generation portfolio. I propose that we take renewables to the maximum the system will allow as long as it does not negatively impact rates.
3. Until the studies have been completed, thereby providing us all the data we would need, I have not taken a position on the low impact hydro projects. However, I cannot support any hydro projects that would significantly impact water quality or fish habitat.
4. With regard to HEA’s involvement with the Healy Coal facility, I need to clarify involvement. If by involvement are you asking, do I support HEA being an owner of the facility in part or in whole?, or have an obligation for the start-up of the plant? This I am not in support of. However, I do support HEA’s position of first right of refusal to purchase up to 27 megawatts of power from (Golden Valley Electric Association). If there is an acceptable contract for such a purchase, that is in the best interests of HEA’s members, then I could support it. As of this date, no proposed contract has come before the board for consideration.
5. The stage has been set, the wheels are in motion, the potential sites have been selected to assure HEA has the required generation available by 2014. This will be accomplished by a portfolio that reflects present generation technology and renewables. It may also require, but has yet to be determined, a contract/purchase spinning reserves. The power sales agreement between HEA/(Chugach) is a take or pay contract.
6. I refer you to my answer in #1, and also by HEA becoming a diversified, independent power provider with its own dispatch. These are big ticket items, but I will continue to look for opportunities for cost savings thereby stabilizing rates. Bringing generation and dispatch to the peninsula will mean jobs.
Editor’s note: Seelinger composed and e-mailed his comments, rather than participating in an interview as all other candidates did. All grammar and punctuation is printed verbatim, except for parenthetical references added for clarity.
1. “It would increase efficiency. The estimate is it would be $40 million a year, because most of the utilities at this time are getting ready to build additional generation. Those would be small projects compared to what the giant co-op for transmission and energy production could do.”
2. “I’m very much in favor of them. They’re not going to solve the problem within the next 10 years. They’re certainly the way to go in the interim.”
3. “I’m not that familiar with them. In general I’m in favor with most hydro projects. I would have to have more information before I could say definitely. In a hydro project, there’s always pluses and minuses, mostly dealing with fish on the minus side, and with what the hydro does, is it controls the stream flow, and that makes people nervous.”
4. “The federal government and the state put more than $100 million into it. I think it’s just really sort of obscene the thing has sat there for close to 20 years. I think it’s got to be brought online so it isn’t just a wasted resource. You’ve got to remember that that’s a clean coal facility. That isn’t just a coal-fired power plant. That was designed and a lot of money was put into that to make it a facility that would burn coal cleanly.”
5. “I think what we should do is go into the proposal that the governor is pushing, which will resolve that question.”
6. “I don’t have the information to answer that right now. There’s a lot of stuff going on internally and I understand some of it’s pretty volatile. One thing I would believe in is a little more sunshine and transparency. Springing these rate increases on people, this is a co-op, remember, it’s supposed to be owned by members. I think springing 40 percent increases on members with no notice is absolutely beyond the pale.”
7. “I’ve got some ideas that HEA can do that would help members. I don’t think they’re big deals, but one or both have been done by other electric utilities, is set up a program for reduced cost for buying florescent lightbulbs. The other is to set up a program for funding through local improvement districts the provision of lines for supplying gas to homes when the gas line comes down to the south peninsula.”