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Homer Electric incumbent Jim Levine retains board seat, talks future of power on the peninsula

Hope McKenney

Homer Electric Association’s elections wrapped up last week, with one new representative and two incumbents keeping their seats on the nine-member board. Directors are tasked with steering the electric co-op through a potential Cook Inlet gas shortage in the next few years and transitioning to other sources of energy, while keeping rates stable for its 25,000-plus members.

Incumbent Jim Levine will continue to represent the southern Kenai Peninsula on the HEA board. Levine is based in Homer, and has a background in engineering and construction. He has served two three-year terms with HEA, starting in 2009.

HEA District 3 representative Jim Levine
Sabine Poux
HEA District 3 representative Jim Levine

“This is my third term in this go around of being on the board. And we're just hoping that we can keep moving forward on diversifying our power generation methods,” he said.

That’s going to be critical for the Kenai Peninsula electric utility in the next few years, as the available Cook Inlet natural gas supply is projected to drop below demand as soon as 2027.

“My concern is that whatever else happens, we'll probably end up at some point, in the not too distant future, importing gas,” Levine said. “And I think that's going to be very expensive and time consuming.”

He says two topics - the gas shortage and transitioning to renewable energy - were the main topics of concern from Homer residents he heard about during this past election.

Levine campaigned on a platform of incorporating more renewable energy sources onto the grid and working with more independent power producers, including solar energy companies.

“That would actually be less costly than what we're paying right now for producing our own power from gas. So there's already the ability to reduce our dependence on gas and add it at a cheaper rate,” he said.

Levine says tidal energy has great potential for the Kenai Peninsula, but isn’t feasible, yet. Multiple companies are exploring the feasibility of harnessing Cook Inlet’s powerful tides, though those projects — if they happen at all — are still years down the road. And the HEA board is exploring the prospect of producing electricity from methane gas.

“There's a possibility of landfill gas, or methane gas produced at the Soldotna landfill,” he said. “We've been looking at using that to produce electricity and to provide residual heat for the landfill. They need the heat and we need the electricity, so it seems like a win-win situation there.”

That project is similar to an existing one at the Anchorage municipal landfill, he says.

Levine says transitioning away from gas and to renewables also makes financial sense for the utility in the long term.

“One of the other main reasons that I've been kind of harping on renewable and other alternative energy systems to the gas, is the gas cost is a third of our budget.” he said. “Our budget is approximately $100 million a year. And so the gas costs us over 30 million - it's usually probably up to about $33-34 million a year - that we spend just on buying gas for those turbines to produce electricity.”

He says he’d like to see HEA achieve its goal of reaching 50 percent renewable energy sources by 2025.

Levine says during his last term, one of the main accomplishments of the board was purchasing a storage battery to provide backup when there are power outages, to avoid what’s called “islanding.” That system is called the battery energy storage system,or the BESS.

“Basically, it's set up, so that when there are any glitches on the system, it instantly provides power,” he said. “So that if we have any kind of issues, then that the battery provides us with power until we can get it rearranged.”

Voter turnout of the HEA election was remarkably low this year — just 16 percent of its 25,000 customers, about 4000, voted in this year’s election. But Levine says that’s about average for board elections.

“So I don't know how to kick it up anymore,” Levine said. “It does seem like one of those areas where you're more affected by your electric rates than pretty much anything else that's going on. And you would think that there would be more interest in voting on it.”

In another decisive election last week, Seward voters narrowly rejected the sale of Seward Electric to Homer Electric Association - by 7 votes. HEA and the City of Seward both said the deal would be good for customers, and put downward pressure on rates and help with economies of scale.

Levine says the loss was heartbreaking.

“That was kind of heart-breaking,” he said. “Me and actually, as far as I know, all the board members really did feel that it was in the best interest of both Seward and Homer Electric to go forward with that sale. But anyway, we weren't able to convince quite enough Seward members.”

Despite the rejection of the sale, Levine says he’s hopeful this new board is up for addressing future energy challenges for the Kenai Peninsula. And, he says he enjoys serving on the board.

“It seems like it's an important aspect of our life. And it's a place where I can provide some expertise based on my background. So that's why I've gotten involved in and enjoy staying involved.”

Levine says residents are welcome to contact him and the HEA board of directors with concerns or feedback, contact information is at

Corinne Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer who hails from Oakland, California. She’s reported for KFSK in Petersburg, KHNS in Haines, and most recently as a fish reporter for KDLG’s Bristol Bay Fisheries Report.
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