Point of View: Electricity in the age of COVID

Jim Levine (Photo courtesy Jim Levine)

Jim Levine (Photo courtesy Jim Levine)

Electricity is critically important. I am running for re-election to be a voice for diverse renewable generation that will lower electric bills. I understand that HEA members are experiencing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I proposed a temporary halt on the rate increase that took effect April 1st, but it was too far along to change. However, HEA is distributing capitol credits to support our members from 1989 during this stressful time. Anyone experiencing hardship with their bill please contact HEA member services and they will work with you on a solution.

These extraordinary times highlight how important it is for renewable energy to replace expensive fossil fuels! At the end of last year there was an abundance of fossil fuel free hydroelectric power from Bradley Lake and rates went down. Now we are back to relying on natural gas, and rates shot back up. Eighty percent of this recent rate increase goes to purchasing natural gas, which has increased more than 350% since 2000 in Cook Inlet. With only one producer, the cost of natural gas is three times higher than other parts of the country. In contrast, Kodiak, with 99% renewable power, has seen its rates go down.

Over $30 million of the HEA budget goes to purchasing natural gas to generate electricity. A few years ago we solicited bids from private developers to install solar panels on the HEA system. This would allow us to receive the benefits of a solar farm without having to provide the capital costs to build it. This is the kind of outside the box thinking we need to really reduce rates.

Lots of exciting things are happening at HEA these days regarding renewable energy. The biggest news is the battery system which will improve reliability, save money when the transmission line goes down, and provide the instant power we need to balance the variable output of wind, solar, and other renewable energy systems.

Other renewable projects HEA is investigating are:

• generating electricity by tapping into the gas produced by the Borough landfill;

• additional hydroelectric generation from Bradley Lake (which will come online this year);

• hydroelectric generation from Grant Lake;

• utilizing the sun, the wind, and the tides.

• the net metering program. Nothing is more “cooperative” than members providing electricity for other members!

Modern renewable-energy technologies are safe and reliable. As we can see from Kodiak, renewable power can stabilize and lower rates. And renewable power is critical in the fight against the growing crisis of climate change. It is time to diversify the energy generation of HEA, and renewable generation is the only cost effective way to diversify.

I am co-chair and a founding member of the Renewable Energy Committee at HEA and have been working for many years to develop more and better renewable energy generation projects.

I ask for your vote during this election cycle at HEA. Ballots were sent out April 10. Together we can have a brighter electrical future.

Jim Levine is a candidate for the Homer Electric Association Board, District 3.

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