Homer Electric Association's annual meeting is still up in the air, but their board of directors election is underway. The ballots are going out to co-op members this week.
District 3 - Kasilof south to Kachemak Bay area - has three candidates for one seat: Troy A. Jones of Homer, Pete Kinneen of Anchor Point and incumbent Eugene Alan “Jim” Levine of Homer.
KBBI’s Kathleen Gustafson spoke with all three candidates. Click on the audio files below to hear those interviews. The interviews are also transcribed below. To read the candidates' statements and resumes, go to homerelectric.com/elections
Transcripts of interviews:
I was reading your resume and I would love to hear your take on the work you did for the hydroelectric plant.
You're talking about Bradley Lake. I worked on several different phases of that project. I think it was a great project and continues to give great benefits to the Kenai Peeninsula and all the way to Fairbanks with the grid.
What can you bring to the Homer Electric Association Board of Directors?
HEA is doing all kinds of things, which whenever things are easy and good, that's great. But I think we need to focus on the basics, looking at our infrastructure. I work around and with the electrical grid a lot, and I see it's deteriorating and I'm trying to see how we can save some money.
See how we can reduce it instead of just continuing to do all of these other programs. I just don't believe the membership wants to see that. They look at their bill when it comes and they want to see that bill as low as possible.
What other programs are you talking about?
The alternative energy is exactly that - alternative energy.
The hydro is, that's great. It's already established. The natural gas, they've got everything set up to do that. But far as tide and, the solar here, I don't agree with putting a whole bunch of money into solar. You let the private sector perfect that and someday down the road it may be.
Another issue that I would like to really study and look at is this battery backup.
The Tesla, the Tesla battery?
Yeah. We're blowing money like a drunken sailor and I think we need to get it back under control. Your immediate goals are to focus on existing infrastructure and repairs, taking care of our linemen and our workers. Focus on infrastructure and making sure that it's in good repair.
And what about any longterm goals, development goals for HEA.
For 25 years I've paid payroll and ran a business here in Homer. I've seen good times. I've seen tough times. I know that you have to live on what comes through the door. I work a lot in the community with new people that are moving to Homer. I do foundations and driveways and septic systems. I get to talk with all these new folks that come in, and the one thing that stopping growth in Homer is supply of power and it's cost prohibitive for a young family, or if you're as much as 300 yards from the existing power line, it's cost prohibitive.
So we've got to look at that. We've got to figure out. Well, what can we do? I've lived here for over 60 years. I've pretty much seen a HEA from the start up to today, and I'd appreciate your vote if I can be of assistance to get HEA back where we can afford to have electricity and afford to hook up new customers.
Well, thank you so much for your time. Troy Jones, candidate for Homer Electric Association board in District Three.
The future has arrived. Alternative energy is in process of overcoming fossil fuels, and that change has happened.
Do you think renewable energies are cost effective in the same way as fossil fuels?
I absolutely believe it. The term they use for that is price parity.
If you were to desire a new source of energy, it is today, cheaper. Solar energy is everything. I mean, all the others pale in comparison to solar power. And the key that makes it work is affordable storage. Battery prices have come down and they're continuing to come down cheaper than drilling a new source of fossil fuel.
HEA has done a fair amount of work on renewables. They have the Tesla battery. They have a solar co-op as well. What do you feel like you can contribute to HEA?
Traditionally electrical generation utilities are long term thinking. Nothing exciting, don't rock the boat. And that has served us well for the last 11 decades, and I applaud that.
However, we are at the point of disruption, similar to cell phones, disrupting the telephone industry, computers replacing encyclopedias is happening to electrical generation. We need to have a director or two at the table who does understand big money. I've handled lots of very large sums of money over my career, but we also need someone flexible enough to look at all of the changes that are hitting right now.
The fact that HEA is reaching out through the Tesla battery gives me enthusiasm to be involved. An example might be being open to folks who are going to be coming to make presentations, proposals to put in what's called the mini grid. A big part of that is to have battery systems stage. Periodically through the grid system, so that isolated communities that are in districts that put up huge capital costs to be tied into the grid.
Having micro grids not connected to the main grid, what rely on most likely solar, some wind possibility, but being tied in with the new batteries that are available and are becoming even more so. Yeah. And it's at an accelerated rate toward access and affordability and the reliability of having grid that can be separated so that if the power does go down, uh, at my house, it doesn't turn off the power at your house because there's battery can kick into it in a microsecond.
Okay. Pete Kinneen, ccandidate for Homer Electric Association, Board of Directors District Three, thank you.
I can ask you about the rate hike. You've been around for that. First of all, can you explain the rate hike that came online April 1st?
In this particular case, there's two aspects to this rate hike, what's called a base rate hike, base rate being. sort of all the costs of HCA and they keep going up.
Salaries go up. The cost of living is a good way to put it. This year in particular, some of the regulatory requirements have gone up. The state just mandated reliability standards, so those costs have gone up. So, that's kind of the cause of the base rate increase, which is actually smaller than the COPA.
COPA is the cost of power adjustment. And that, that actually went up quite a bit this time. As a requirement of RCA, of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, every three months we have to analyze our cost of power and either increase or decrease it based on what happened during the previous three months.
So, that's how the Copa gets adjusted.
So that's how the Copa gets adjusted every three months. You look back at the last three months and recalculate it. David Thomas likes to say, it's like trying to drive your car, looking through the rear view mirror. In January, when we had all that zero degree weather rates were actually much lower than they would have been had it been a normal year.
And it's sort of a perfect storm. January is when, you know, we go on new contracts with the gas supplier, which was higher than last last year's contract. There's only one. There's only one supplier and that's it.
You are co-chair of the Renewable Energy Committee at Homer Electric. All the candidates are talking about lowering costs, but what will it take to do that?
Well, it's, it's pretty difficult because, you know, the salaries are going up. They're a union shop. Nobody's willing to take a hit there. We can't be permanently ignoring the infrastructure. I keep harping on the cost of fuel is our, is our biggest cost.
HCA has a a hundred million dollar a year budget. 30 million of it is for fuel. If you could save that. If a third of your budget goes to fuel, and if you have no fuel costs, then you've just saved a third of your budget. Now, it's probably not likely that we could save 100% of our fuel bills. But even if we were to save half, that'd be $15 million a year. That's a lot of money.
What we're aiming for is to have a reliable, safe system at the lowest cost that we can maintain. And then there's also the landfill gas at Soldotna. We're looking at going on a combined project with the Kenai Peninsula Borough to produce electricity using the landfill gas that is generated there.
Oh, and I didn't, I didn't mention the battery system.
Oh, right. The Tesla battery.
When the transmission line goes down between here and Anchorage, the battery would save us every penny of that cost. We would no longer need to run an additional generator, so we would save $25,000 a day whenever the transmission line is down.
Jim Levine, incumbent board member running for reelection.