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Community Perspective

GVEA: Building trust with its members and Alaska

This year is the 75th anniversary of the founding of Golden Valley Electric Association. Originally intended to provide electricity to areas outside the boundaries of the city of Fairbanks, it has grown to provide electricity from beyond Delta Junction through Fairbanks to Cantwell to 46,000 meters — residential, commercial and industrial. The Annual Members Meeting will be on May 6 online. See gvea.com.

GVEA is more than just an electric company, though it’s understandable that many view it as such. GVEA is a not-for-profit cooperative, member owned, democratically controlled through election of directors, with one of the guiding cooperative principles “Concern for Community.”

A benefit of being a cooperative member-owner is receiving capital credits from any excess funds used to operate the system each year. On a 25 year rotation, GVEA returns them to the members for the year they were allocated. These balance GVEA’s financial health and equity with lenders, reducing our interest rates when we borrow.

Another benefit is transparency to members to know about GVEA. The revamped website makes it easy to find information on board meetings, mission and values, board policies, board strategic directives to management, and more. Most members may not have that level of interest, but it is there to provide transparency and build trust.

Member communication is a priority the board has directed management to expand. I look forward to more two-way communication with the many ways that updated technology can offer. You can help by making sure your contact information is up to date, with current email and phone numbers.

GVEA takes providing reliable service seriously. It’s part of our mission. GVEA implemented the Outage Management System and members can view the outage map online and allowed dispatchers and crews to respond more quickly to outages. Clearing of easements to prevent outages has been challenging. Work is ongoing to improve clearing activities on the 3,261 miles of transmission and distribution lines.

The utility business is complex. Decisions are made with guidance from our guiding principles and always with the members in mind. GVEA knows it’s the members’ money. There is a balance between rates and investments for future needs to insure reliable affordable service. During the pandemic, service levels remained high through budget cuts and efficiencies. We also worked to help members financially impacted by Covid.

GVEA has a mix of old and new generation, fossil fuel and renewables, and transmission lines that allow us to purchase power from the other Railbelt utilities. The 1967 Healy 1 coal fired power plant, originally proposed as a nuclear plant, is due to be shut down in 2024 unless GVEA invests some serious capital to improve its emissions, a 2012 agreement made with the feds to approve the Healy 2 plant restart. Other options to make up what Healy 1 provides need more clarity and some rely on other parties. Renewables, energy storage, and energy provided by members and private companies are in the mix. I can assure you that the Board and management are making a diligent effort for the right solution to provide for our members into the future.

We understandably complain when rates go up. We need to communicate that our members know GVEA is not out to rip off consumers. Rates are set with oversight of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. The two major components of your rates are the Utility Charge and the Fuel and Purchased Power Charge (COPA). The Utility Charge pays for debt, interest, depreciation and operations and hasn’t changed in 2020 or will in 2021. COPA is adjusted quarterly based on past and future expected prices. It includes paying for GVEA’s diverse fuel mix, some contracted, others based on the price of oil, which GVEA doesn’t control. GVEA is investigating how to moderate those swings to help members’ predictable budgeting.

This brings me to my final point: Trust. My hope and expectation is that with increased transparency and effective two-way communication, your Board of Directors and GVEA employees can demonstrate how hard they work to provide safe, reliable service at a reasonable cost. It’s not GVEA’s money — it’s yours. We strive to deserve your trust that GVEA is working for our members now and for the future.

Gary Newman serves on the GVEA Board of Directors. The perspective presented here is his own.

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