University of Alaska's heat and power plant

The University of Alaska's heat and power plant, which started operating in 2020, is shown with the older, decommissioned coal plant in the background. Coal shipments arrive by rail from Alaska's only operating coal mine.

Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) can now buy power from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a local producer with a new 17-megawatt heat and power plant. 

GVEA signed a one-year power purchase agreement with the university, which was approved by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

The agreement enables GVEA to buy power from UAF, after the university meets power needs on the 70-acre campus.

“This allows GVEA the flexibility to purchase from a local power producer when [it is] economic to do so, while enabling UAF to run their plant at higher, more efficient loads,” according to a press release from GVEA.

GVEA either purchases or generates power based on the lowest-cost electricity available.

UAF’s new $245 million heat and power plant, which came online in 2020, has been described as one of the most environmentally friendly coal-fired plants in the country.

It also is the nation’s first new coal-fired plant to come online since 2015, as older plants are decommisioned for cheaper plants powered by natural gas and renewables, according to E&E News. 

The coal is sourced from the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, a family-owned business. Usibelli is the state’s only coal mine, located 100 miles from the Fairbanks university. Usibelli also supplies coal to help power Eielson Air Force Base, near Fairbanks.

In addition to the UAF heat and power plant, GVEA has several other power supply sources, which span solar, wind, natural gas, hydropower, diesel, coal and naphtha (a liquid hydrocarbon mix).

Diesel and coal-fired plants are among the largest suppliers and solar the smallest. 

The power plants include:

• Solar Farm (0.5 megawatts, solar)

• Alaska Environmental Power (2 megawatts, wind)

• Bradley Lake Hydroelectric (20 megawatts, hydropower)

• Aurora Energy (25 megawatts, coal)

• Eva Creek (25 megawatts, wind)

• Delta Power Plant (27 megawatts, diesel)

• Zehnder Power Plant in Fairbanks (41 megawatts, diesel)

• North Pole Expansion Power Plant (60 megawatts, naphtha)

• Healy Power Plants (28 and 60 megawatts, coal)

• Southcentral Alaska (70 megawatts, natural gas)

• North Pole Power Plant (120 megawatts, diesel)

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.