By Naomi Klouda
Homer Electric Association’s annual meeting in Homer on Thursday drew a record turnout as new members of the HEA Board of Directors were voted in.
Alan Bute, of Kenai, won the race for the seat representing District 1, Ed Oberts, of Soldotna, was elected to the seat representing District 2, and Jim Levine, of Homer, was elected to represent the members in District 3.
In District 1’s Kenai-Nikiski district, Alan Bute received 736 votes and Andrew Patrick garnered 538 votes, for 1,274 votes total.
In District 2’s Soldotna-Sterling-Kasilof area, Ed Oberts received 451 votes, Jim Fassler received 401 votes, incumbent Bill Tappan finished with 359 votes and Terrance Johnson ended up with 209 votes, for 1,420 votes total.
In District 3’s South Kasilof-Kachemak Bay area, Levine received 688 votes, incumbent Don Seelinger had 530 votes, Pete Roberts received 436 votes, Doug Stark tallied 273 votes, and Steve Franklin finished with 65 votes, for 1,992 votes total.
Of the 4,686 votes, Homer’s showing of 1,992 votes came from a smaller population base.
Levine attributed the large showing to a possible desire on the part of Homer residents to see the utility pursue more alternative energy sources, rather than fossil fuels, such as coal.
“I certainly thought we needed to head more toward a renewable energy path. This is like a new board,“ Levine said. “People here are pretty (much) against coal.”
In additon to the new directors elected to the board, board president Dave Carey resigned to be borough mayor and Hugh Chumley also resigned to act as Carey’s chief of staff. This means HEA has a largely new board. Levine believed the new makeup isn’t so much a vote for new directions as it is a turnover due to board directors “moving on to other things.”
General Manager Brad Janorschke presented information about challenges HEA must meet in order to usher in a new energy age. In the long term, wind projects, large-scale hydroelectric plants and new technology will be involved in generating power, he said.
In the meantime, “There is no short-term fix, except natural gas,” he said.
Carbon taxes, the cost of obtaining new technology, financing new resource generation and replacing or updating an aging infrastructure also will present challenges in the next five years, Janorschke predicted. In five to 20 years, HEA will be pursuing design and construction of new, long-term projects. A 30-year plan for shifting to hydro hopefully will be laid out by the end of the year, he added.
A chart dividing up resource generation showed how HEA is trying to overcome its dependence on power generation from natural gas. In 2013, HEA’s contract with Chugach Electric Association expires. After that, HEA would like to see at least 22 percent of its generation replaced by renewable energy, with 6 percent from small-scale hydro, 10 percent from wind and another 6 percent from Bradley Lake. The balance would then be 75 percent natural gas dependency, instead of the present 93 percent.
A day before the meeting, Janorschke said he was approached by the California Institute of Technology to partner in an onshore tidal-hydro project. The city of Homer would be a partner, with Jet Propulsion Laboratories carrying out the research project. At this point, a letter of intent has been written to proceed with the possibility of gaining Department of Energy grant money to pursue the project.
“This will be an inexpensive learning experiment,” he said.
No mention was made of coal in the general manager’s presentation, though late last year, HEA signed a contract with Golden Valley Electric Association agreeing to purchase power from the Healy Clean Coal Plant when that is up and running.
At the annual meeting, members challenged Janorschke on the matter of HEA’s agreement with GVEA on both financial and environmental grounds.
Rocky Frank wanted to know why HEA doesn’t pursue more wind generation projects.
“Coal, coal, coal — that’s our best choice?” he asked.
A power supply study is being completed, Janorschke responded, with the goal to use it as a blueprint for proceeding forward. Until that is done, HEA doesn’t know how coal will fit into its energy options for the future. Once the study is completed, HEA’s board will make a decision on whether to move forward with Healy coal, he said.
On the ballots, Homer Electric members also passed two ballot propositions. Ballot Proposition 1, which deleted language from the bylaws prohibiting anyone who sells electric appliances from serving on the board of directors, passed by a vote of 2,840 to 1,873,
Proposition 2, which added language to the bylaws to allow electronic notification of directors regarding special meetings, passed by a wide margin or 3,699 to 1,222.
The meeting also featured recognition of the winners of Homer Electric’s Safety Poster contest, scholarships awards, and Youth Rally selections.
Scholarship awards of $2,000 each went to: Molly Watkins of Kenai Central High School; Kristi Louthan, of Kenai Central High School; Zachary Hibberd of Skyview High School; Jesse Carlson of Soldotna High School; Katherine Miller of Homer High School; McKenzie Akers of Homer Connections; and Charlene Flyum of Homer; Kathryn Epperheimer of Nikiski; Liza Franzmann of Sterling and Richard Hubby of Soldotna, all in continuing education.