As the days get colder and the nights get darker, one can’t help but think about our utility bills. Not too long from now, there will be frost on the ground and we will be turning up the heat to keep our houses just a little bit warmer and turning the lights on to keep them well lit. What we might not think about is where that energy comes from and how we can make it more affordable for us — the consumer. This question is vital to surviving in the Interior, and it is our responsibility as community members and ratepayers to find a reasonable solution for the answer.
Recently, representatives from Golden Valley Electric Association announced their intent to purchase the Healy experimental coal plant from the state at the tune of $95 million. This might seem like a step in the right direction, but the fact is that this project has been a black hole for the state of Alaska and it would not be in the best interests of us, the ratepayers, for GVEA to follow through with this purchase.
In 1989, when the U.S. Department of Energy decided to build the Healy plant, its intent was to experiment new kinds of technology that would reduce nitrogen and sulfur oxide formation and particulate matter by using a multi-stage burning process. What they didn’t expect were the constant shutdowns and operational disruptions which forced the plant to permanently close after being open for only six months. This project became a black hole for public funding, with the U.S. Department of Energy and the state of Alaska dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into what would soon become an industrial nightmare for those involved and a plague of death for any utility company interested in buying into the development. The Healy plant became the poster child for government waste.
Since then the status of the project has not improved, with the state failing multiple attempts to start the plant up and utility companies from across Alaska jumping ship on what would be a disastrous investment. In 2009, Homer Electric Association ended its involvement with the project, afraid of the risky investment and soaring costs of the restart. But now Golden Valley is once again inexplicably trying to open the Healy project, a move that would waste the money of hard-working ratepayers and increase our utility bills for years to come.
Representatives from GVEA say the move would reduce oil consumption in the Interior and lower consumer rates in the long run. But what they won’t disclose is that this faulty coal plant will pile on millions of more dollars to our debt, and it does nothing to address the rapidly changing global market, where investors are abandoning coal projects left and right. Instead, companies are looking toward natural gas, renewable energy and energy efficiency, which all have proven to be more reliable and would provide predictable and affordable rates that will avoid drastic market swings and cost increases in the future.
Hundreds of millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars have already been wasted on the Healy experiment, and now GVEA is proposing we spend $95 million more during the next few years. As ratepayers, why are we willing to let them dump our hard-earned money into a project that has proven nothing but failure in the past and will prove nothing but failure in the future? They need to abandon this black hole and dedicate our limited dollars to increased energy efficiency and established technologies that will meet our long-term needs.
I invite fellow ratepayers to write the GVEA board online at www.GVEAratepayers.com. Also, on Monday at 7 p.m., GVEA will hold a board meeting at its headquarters, 758 Illinois Street. The meeting is open to the public, and I encourage you to go tell your board members to quit wasting ratepayer money on the Healy coal plant and start making solid investments for the good of the community.
With its miserable track record and its unreliable source of energy, it is time for the Healy project to be closed down for good. Our community deserves more than this failed project — and quite simply — we just can’t afford to keep paying for mistakes. With your voice, we can blaze a path in the right direction for future energy production and reduce costs while we’re at it.
Nancy Kuhn is a member of the GVEA Ratepayers Alliance. She has lived and worked in the Fairbanks community since 1975.