Category Archives: utilities

HEA ready to plug into hydro — Grant Lake project heading on to licensing

Kenai hydro sites WebBy Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Homer Electric Assoc-iation generates 91 percent of its energy from natural gas. But as natural gas availability and prices can fluctuate, HEA has decided that 91 percent is too big an egg to lie in that one basket. So it has set an ambitious goal — increase the amount of power generation from renewable sources to 22 percent by 2018.

“That’s a bit of a stretch goal, and we’ll probably have a tough time reaching that, but we’re working on that and we’re evaluating a number of different potentials,” said Mike Salzetti, who manages fuel supply and renewable energy for HEA, in a presentation to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce last week.

Currently, 9 percent of HEA’s power generation portfolio comes from renewables, from its share of the output of the Bradley Lake hydroelectric facility on the south side of Kachemak Bay. Salzetti said that a couple of options are on the table to grow that percentage. HEA has been working with Ocean Renewable Power Company on a small-scale tidal energy project in Cook Inlet, for instance.

“We’re looking at a couple of other things right now, but right now we’re playing our cards close to vest as we evaluate those projects. I think the key to renewable opportunities is being smart about it. There’s a really big difference between intermittent renewables, such as solar and wind, and baseload-type renewable energy projects, such as hydro, geothermal, landfill gas, those types of things.” Salzetti said.

HEA thinks its smartest bet at the moment is constructing a hydro project at Grant Lake in Moose Pass. The possibility of such a project was investigated in the 1980s, and HEA took renewed interest in the idea in the last decade. After six years of scoping, researching, conducting field studies, data crunching, designing and engineering, HEA expects to submit a draft license application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the end of March.

The plan is to build an intake structure near the outlet of Grant Lake and divert water down 3,200 feet of a 10-foot-diameter, U-shaped tunnel, through a penstock to a powerhouse with two, 2.5-megawatt turbines, then return the water to the stream, with an off-stream detention pond to provide a storage reserve.

The project will involve two miles of road — one mile from the Seward Highway to the powerhouse, and another mile to the intake structure — and one mile of transmission line from the powerhouse to the existing line along the highway. That proximity is one of the big advantages of the project.

“We have a lot of great renewable energy potential projects in the state of Alaska, but they get squashed — the economics of them get squashed — by the fact that they’re 10 miles or 20 miles away from transmission. At roughly $1 million a mile for transmission, on small-scale projects the economics just don’t pencil out,” Salzetti said.

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New HEA plant sparks capacity — Facility, upgrades mean energy independence

Photo by Hanna Heimbuch, Homer Tribune. HEA’s Nikiski Combined Cycle Plant began operating in January and was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting Thursday.

Photo by Hanna Heimbuch, Homer Tribune. HEA’s Nikiski Combined Cycle Plant began operating in January and was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting Thursday.

By Hannah Heimbuch

Homer Tribune

May Day welcomed more than early summer weather last week, it also marked the dedication of a new Homer Electric Association plant in Nikiski. About 100 of the energy co-op’s members and employees gathered at the Nikiski Combined Cycle Plant — which began operating the first of this year — to commemorate and tour the Nikiski plant and the Bernice Lake Combustion Turbine Plant.

“(It is) truly monumental in the history of Homer Electric Association,” said HEA Board of Directors President Dick Waisanen. The plant represents HEA’s transition into a new era in many ways, he said, both by its technology and the independence it represents.

As of Jan. 1, HEA became independent from wholesale supplier Chugach Electric Association.

“In the end, all of our lofty goals have been accomplished,” said Alaska Electric and Energy Cooperative President Bill Fry. “We are producing our own power, we are independent.”

That independence came with a boost in personnel, adding 34 full-time, long-term jobs to the HEA staff list. Some of those new positions are located at Power Dispatch in Nikiski, a state-of-the-art control center manned 24/7. Dispatch staff, posted in front of dozens of ever-changing information screens, match power generation to member load and maintain system frequency. This dispatch center connects HEA’s diverse power generation system, including the Bernice Lake plant. HEA purchased Bernice Lake from Chugach Electric in 2011. It uses three gas turbines to produce 80 megawatts of power.

The new plant at Nikiski also generates 80 megawatts of power, 18 of them produced by a new steam turbine. The steam turbine uses waste heat from the combustion turbine, converting the heat to usable energy that’s pumped back into the HEA grid without using any additional natural gas.

Plant Superintendent Larry Jorgensen describes a combustion turbine as a jet engine mounted on skids. The turbine capacity in Nikiski is equivalent to about 45,000 horsepower, he said. The heat recovery steam generator pulls the 950- to 1,000-degree heat coming from that turbine, and converts it to steam — 370,000 pounds per hour at maximum capacity.

“That’s the energy savings,” Jorgensen said. “We’ll remove that heat and convert it to power.”

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Link in with HEA outage updates — Technology powers connectivity

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Few things kink our technology-entwined lives these days like a power outage. But as computers and electronics continue their integration into all aspects of our work and play, they also offer additional ways to be informed about outages.

Homer Electric Association recently rolled out an outage map on its website, www.homerelectric.com, showing outages as they occur and are resolved throughout the HEA coverage area. Currently the map is only available during business hours — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, because it requires someone in the dispatch center to input and update outage information and the dispatch center is only staffed during regular hours. But by the middle of June the dispatch center’s hours are to be expanded so that it’s staffed around the clock, and the plan is to expand the outage map’s operational hours, as well.

“The goal is that it will be a 24/7 tool, but it’s just going to take a little bit more work on our end here to make that happen,” said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman.

Just knowing about an outage is useful, but being updated on progress to fix the problem is even more comforting. For that, technology — specifically, social media — again offers improvement.

“Over the past year or so we have used Facebook and that has just been a huge tool for information,” Gallagher said.

The standard procedure for letting members know about outages is to send press releases and updates to local media outlets, which distribute the news but with an inherent time lag. Newspapers take at least a day to distribute, and even radio stations can have a delay, particularly on nights or weekends when staffing is low.

“We work closely with all the media outlets and they do a good job but there’s always that time lag. The availability to get that information out quickly was not always there and we would just do the best we could,” Gallagher said.

Even posting information on a website isn’t always a direct means of distribution. It is available instantaneously, but only to those who are actively visiting the site. But with Facebook — or Twitter, on which HEA also operates an account — anyone who follows HEA has updates show up automatically.

“With the advent of Facebook it’s able to pretty much be instantaneous. When we have information about an outage it is immediately put on our Facebook page and it’s available to thousands of people right off the bat,” Gallagher said.

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Grant Lake hydro denied funds — Study continues on proposed 4.5-MW project

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Alaska Energy Authority’s recent rejection of a $4 million Renewable Energy Grant application to fund construction of a proposed hydroelectric dam on Grant Creek in the Kenai Mountains near Moose Pass may have been a matter of putting the cart before the horse, but has not resulted in unhitching the project.

Work will continue on conducting field studies, applying for licensing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and pursuing construction funding.

“HEA continues to be enthused about the feasibility of developing a low-impact Grant Lake hydroelectric project and the renewable energy that this project would add to HEA’s generation portfolio,” said Joe Gallagher, spokesman for Homer Electric Association, in an emailed response to questions about the AEA funding decision.

Kenai Hydro, LLC is a subsidiary of HEA, formed to investigate the feasibility of constructing hydroelectric projects on the Kenai Peninsula. Initially, in 2008, four sites were considered, Grant Lake, Falls Creek, Crescent Lake and Ptarmigan Lake, all in the mountains near Moose Pass, and all connected to the Kenai River drainage. Economic feasibility was found lacking in all but the 4.5-megawatt Grant Lake project, and development work on that site has continued.

Much of Kenai Hydro’s work has been supported by funding through the Renewable Energy Grant program, administered by the AEA and established by the Legislature in 2008 to provide assistance to utilities, independent power producers and local and tribal governments in researching and developing renewable energy projects in Alaska.

Kenai Hydro got $100,000 for a reconnaissance assessment, $816,000 in round one of Renewable Energy Grant funding, plus another $1,184,000 in round four. The application period for funding in round five closed in August, and Kenai Hydro submitted a request for $4 million in funding for project construction. Continue reading

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Gas line points to low bills — Anchor Point savings spurs renewed effort for natural gas extension

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Homer Tribune. Jesse Clutts, owner of the Anchor River Inn, has been enjoying a reduction in bills since switching to natural gas from propane.

Homer Tribune

At the Anchor River Inn, the grills in the kitchen used to be hooked up to propane, an expense that made every pot of soup and hamburgers cost that much more.

At the end of November, owner Jesse Clutts shut down the restaurant.

“We shut down for that week, then we were able to go in and change out to new equipment. Using propane in the kitchen was our major expense,” Clutts said.

December’s bill brought Clutts the equivalent of a Christmas gift. From paying $2,000 a month for propane, his bill went down to $500 a month with natural gas.

“It was exactly as they said it would be; we dropped our costs in one month,” he said. Continue reading

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HEA rate changes easy on residents, harder on larger users

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has approved Homer Electric Association’s rate restructuring plan. The new rates are effective as of Jan. 1.

The plan will result in a rate decrease for many HEA members, with the average HEA residential member using 630 kilowatt hours seeing a 7.2 percent decrease in the monthly bill, according to an HEA press release. HEA’s board of directors and management wanted the new rate structure to more fairly recover fixed costs, or expenses, incurred that are not related to the amount of energy consumed by members.

Mike O’Meara, spokesman for the HEA Membership Forum, said he did the calculations for his own estimated December billing to see how the new rates would play out on the electric bill. Continue reading

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Winds wreak havoc — HEA responds to latest in month of storm outages

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Homer Electric Association. An HEA crew works to repair a power line on South Miller Loop in Nikiski after a downed tree took out the line in a Nov. 2 storm.

Redoubt Reporter

Getting angry at the weather is an exercise in futility. Getting angry at the utility service for power outages caused by the weather is just about as productive.

Kenai Peninsula residents have had their patience tested on both accounts the last month and a half, as a series of winter storms have blown through Southcentral Alaska, dumping snow and rain, turning roads into rutted ice chutes with thawing and refreezing temperatures, and whipping up wind gusts clocked at 50 mph. The storms have clobbered the power grid, causing hundreds more outages among Homer Electric Association customers in November and so far this December than any of the five preceding years, with some outages affecting thousands of customers at a time, and some lasting a day or more.

The latest outages came with strong winds Sunday, with an outage Sunday morning affecting about 2,300 homes in Soldotna, and outages Sunday night affecting about 1,800 homes between Kenai and Soldotna, about 590 homes from the start of Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kasilof to the VIP subdivision in Kenai, and along Echo Lake Road.

“We’re doing pretty good as of right now, we’ve got everything taken care of,” said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman, on Monday. “It was a busy weekend.”

As frustrating as it may be to lose power repeatedly and for long stretches — especially in winter in Alaska when loss of electricity can also mean loss of heat and water — Gallagher said that HEA customers have been patient with the situation.

“These outages, as inconvenient as they are, people really are understanding about what’s going on. Even though we’ve had a number of outages, they’ve all been related to storms, and so while people’s power is out, they’re just looking out their front window and seeing the trees blowing back and forth,” Gallagher said. “On the public relations part of things, it has been actually kind of an eye-opener that people are really understanding about their power being out because they realize the conditions.”

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