“There is an opportunity to save
many millions of dollars annually by
restructuring the way we manage the
Railbelt electric grid. There are diverse
stakeholders, but we agree on far more
than we disagree. It takes a lot of work
to get people to agree what is the right
way to go about bringing down power
costs,” Gillespie says.
“I think it resonates with people to
try to manage the grid as a single entity
as opposed to six independent and un-
coordinated [entities],” he says. “Gener-
ally, it’s an easy concept. But like many
things, it’s also very complicated, and
the devil is in the details.”
Four of the six utilities are on board to
help explore the details and possibilities:
GVEA, MEA, Chugach, and Seward Elec-
tric System. HEA has opted out altogeth-
er, pursuing its own Independent Light
program that has already been replacing
outmoded systems to integrate new more
energy efficient ones. ML&P also has de-
clined to join ARCTEC. But under the
leadership of COO and General Manager
J.A. Trent, has recently started to send a
representative to sit at the table during
meetings and take part in the discussion.
Seward Keeps Open Mind
Seward Electric System operates a bit
like ML&P. It is a city-owned utility that
answers to the Seward City Council.
Willard Dunham, treasurer of
ARCTEC and board member, characterizes Seward’s thoughts about forming a joint transmission system as not
firmly committed yet.
“Seward supports reviewing and look-
ing into whether a USO is the answer or
if an independent one is,” Dunham says.
“No utility has made a decision. We’re
looking at the options and seeing how
it can be accomplished. We’re looking at
the RCA for a directional review.”
At its present capacity, SES is a self-
contained utility that owns thirty-eight
miles of transmission line. The town’s
had its own generation since 1937, Dun-
ham says. SES is able to sell power, in a
purchase agreement, to Chugach in cases
where Hope, Moose Pass, or Crown Point
experiences outages. It has its own back-
up power source, with $8 million recently
paid out for upgrades in new generators,
system controls, buildings, and shops.
Dunham emphasizes the work of the
ARCTEC board hasn’t focused on a deci-
sion yet. “We’re looking at could it be ac-
complished? It’s a work in progress. We
have not made any commitment yet, but
the thought is that if you can make our
system better and more stable, then we
are interested,” he says. The lack of uni-
formity or decisions in planning for the
future are the current system’s greatest
flaws, he adds.
Dunham says discussions at ARC TEC
meetings aren’t concerned about taking
over any utility’s assets. “We are looking at the idea of a unified transmission
line,” he says.
GVEA at the End of the Line
Cory Borgeson, CEO of GVEA, says he’s
pleased to be part of the discussion for
building a stronger transmission system.
“We’re pleased to be part of the
ARCTEC. We see it as a consortium, as a
unification of interest to build a stronger
transmission system,” Borgeson says.
“We really need to have an organization
that is on-point to put this together.”
Power in numbers can bring down the
estimated needed $900 million in im-
provements, Borgeson says. An inefficient
system ends up costing consumers more