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Our real electric alternatives: Relatively few want to pay more for power

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Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2009 4:00 am | Updated: 12:50 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

I received my electric bill from Golden Valley Electric Association reflecting the new rates. I understand that because of the predominance of petroleum-based generation, we will always be subject to sharp rises in our electric rates as oil prices increase.

I recall numerous letters to the editor regarding opposition to coal in general and specifically to the Healy Clean Coal Plant. Some residents in Homer were opposed to the HCCP restart and quite vocal about not wanting any of their power to be from coal. It appears they will get their wish; and, although they may pay more in electric rates, they will apparently sleep better knowing no electricity is generated from coal. Therefore, GVEA has taken on the full responsibility for the restart of HCCP.

The sentiment expressed by some Homer residents is felt by some GVEA customers, judging from the letters to the editor referenced above. Some GVEA customers are willing for all to pay more in electric rates if no electricity is produced by coal from HCCP. Personally, I would like all of my power coming from less expensive, coal-generated electricity.

I have presented a proposal to GVEA to add another option to its Sustainable Natural Alternative Power program. SNAP is the voluntary contribution by GVEA members to help support alternative energy. Although more expensive, people are allowed to contribute toward greener alternative energy. My proposal to GVEA was that, in addition to SNAP, members would be allowed to pay for their electricity rates based on the source of its production. If you want all of your electricity from fuel oil, you would pay one rate, and if you want all of your electricity from coal, that would be another rate. Although customers paying for petroleum-based generation would pay a higher rate, they would know they were not supporting coal-powered generation.

In my exploration of this concept with GVEA, I made some suprising discoveries. Although GVEA encouraged me to float the concept to the GVEA members via this correspondence, they told me not to get my hopes up. You see, although many people say they want these alternatives and say that they are willing to pay for them, what they really want is to pay less for energy. When surveyed, 70 percent of the members said they would be willing to pay more for renewable energy. However, when GVEA developed the SNAP program and it came to signing up, only 1 percent actually participated. Therefore, GVEA is faced with the desire of their members for greener energy and the practical reality of less expensive options, such as HCCP, to satisfy the demands of their members for more affordable power.

Are the members hypocrites? Absolutely not. Are they conflicted with the reality of hard choices? Yes. But in the end they decided to save money and made these choices with the economic realities of how much it costs them, not how much better they feel in contributing to a greener planet.

So, my proposal and challenge to all GVEA customers is this: If you want all of your power supplied by oil or coal and are willing to pay the corresponding rates, write GVEA and let them know. Just so you know what your are agreeing to, the typical residential customer’s bill would be $179 for oil and $105 for coal, based on usage of 750 kilowatt hours. Oil-fired electricity is approximately 24 cents per kilowatt hour and coal-fired is about 14 cents per kilowatt hour. Oil costs 65 percent more.

So, begin writing your letters, and GVEA has agreed to report back to me on the responses. Write to the Energy Production Choice c/o GVEA, PO Box 71249, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99707. Please write your letter without delay, I will report the results in 30 days.

If you choose not to write and make the hard choice of paying more, then I would suggest supporting Brian Newton and the management of GVEA in their efforts to restart HCCP.

Richard C. Hundrup is vice president of finance for Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc., whose mining operations are based in Healy.

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