Cooperative will not buy Air Force power plant

FAIRBANKS — The power cooperative that serves interior Alaska will not buy a generating plant put up for sale by the Air Force at its station in Clear.

An official with Golden Valley Electric Association told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that the expense and environmental hurdles are not worth the trouble. Mike Wright, vice president for transmission and distribution, said a review assisted by a consultant led to the decision.

Clear is 80 miles south of Fairbanks and about five miles south of the community of Anderson. The station provides early warning of ballistic missiles.

The Air Force wants to connect the Clear station to the power grid between Fairbanks and Anchorage. Earlier this year, it offered its 22.5-megawatt power plant for sale.

Though small, the plant provides far more power than the station requires. Electricity demands have declined as radar technology has improved.

The station’s power plant has three 7.5-megawatt turbines and each makes more power than the station needs. However, the station runs two at all times to makes sure backup systems are powered.

The excess energy is wasted. The Air Force estimates it will save about $8.8 million annually by buying electricity from GVEA.

GVEA’s consultant reviewed the plant as a way to add generating capacity but questioned whether it would lower rates. Wright said the relatively small power plant would not provide the same efficiency as GVEA’s larger coal plants, which have more than twice the generating capacity.

The plant will need a new operating permit in 2014, Wright said, and likely will not be allowed to run at full capacity.

“We believe that’ll be a challenge,” Wright said. “We don’t believe it’s impossible, but it could be next to impossible to get it going.”

Recent federal approval of a permit to restart the 50-megawatt Healy Clean Coal Plant also means GVEA must focus its resources elsewhere, Wright said. The cost of starting the dormant plant is projected at $120 million or more.

“Our capital focus is going to be on getting Healy Clean Coal going,” Wright said.

Connecting the Air Force station to GVEA power would require construction of a three-mile high-voltage transmission line. Wright said GVEA expects a proposal from the Air Force in March when federal funding is secured.

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