HEA candidate statement: Erin McKittrick

Editor’s note: Homer Electric Association Board Candidates for District 3 Troy Jones, Lonnie Lambert, Erin McKittrick and Doug Stark were invited to submit opinion essays on why they’re running for the board. Jones and Lambert did not submit essays by the noon Tuesday deadline. For information on candidates, visit https://www.homerelectric.com/my-cooperative/board-of-directors/elections.

By Erin McKittrick

For the Homer News

On April 4, Homer Electric Association mailed ballots to around 30,000 members. I’m running for re-election to the board of directors in District 3, and I hope to represent you again.

Three years ago, when I first ran for the HEA board, I wrote an op-ed here (https://www.homernews.com/opinion/point-of-view-time-to-prepare-for-new-energy-future/). I said that the natural gas that fuels our power plants is our biggest expense, and that our dependence on that single power source is our biggest vulnerability. I said that climate change is increasing threats and expenses. And that moving towards renewable energy is our best chance to increase resilience and hold costs down. The last three years have shown how all of that is true, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished to meet these challenges. However, there’s a lot left to do.

One of the first things I had to do on the board was vote on a contract for the natural gas that supplied 88% of our power. Hilcorp was the only bidder, at a price more than triple what gas cost in the lower 48, and triple what it cost us twenty years ago. Those costs are a third of your power bill. When that contract ends in 2024, it is likely there still will be no competition — no room to negotiate.

That summer the Swan Lake Fire burned the power line that connects us to Anchorage. We wasted around $25,000 per day in fuel to keep our grid reliable — for nearly six months.

That wouldn’t happen today. HEA’s giant battery, which we approved that summer, and which came online this year, can provide the reliability we once had to provide with an inefficiently “idling” gas plant. In fact, we expect the battery to cut our overall fuel use by 11%. I was one of the 5-4 board majority voting for the battery.

All our power that doesn’t come from gas comes from Bradley Lake. When Bradley was built, it was an expensive alternative to Cook Inlet’s glut of cheap gas. Now, at under 5 cents per KWh, Bradley is the cheapest power we have by far. In 2020, HEA and the other utilities finished a project to divert more water into the lake, providing HEA with additional cheap energy to power 1200 homes.

We need to do more. In 2021 I proposed HEA’s goal of 50% renewable power by 2025, now official HEA policy. In addition to hydro, the costs of wind and solar have plummeted. Elsewhere on the Railbelt, utilities are buying solar power for less than the cost of gas power. Our battery will let us take advantage of those opportunities. Diversification of energy sources will help HEA fulfill its mission; providing a critical service at the lowest cost we can, with reliability and resilience.

The board’s job is to make the best strategic decisions for the members’ future. If elected, I will keep working to incorporate more low-cost, reliable, renewable power on our grid. I hope I have your vote.