I attended the Palmer Chamber Of Commerce lunch meeting on Wednesday to hear Joe Griffith the new General Manager of Matanuska Electric Association.
There are two major challenges facing MEA. Their contract for gas supplies from Chugach Electric runs out in 2015 and natural gas supplies for producing electricity are running short.
The most immediate and most serious crisis because it affects everyone on the electric intertie system from Fairbanks to Homer is the shortage of Natural Gas. It sounds ludicrous to say it, but we are facing a real possibility of black outs this winter because we may not have enough gas supplies to feed the demand.
It’s crazy because we are sitting on huge supplies of natural gas. The valley itself has enormous supplies of coal bed methane sitting beneath the surface. People are actually talking about shipping in luiquified natural gas, (LPG), from overseas. This is the same state that ridiculed setting up an LPG plant to export natural gas only 2 years ago.
According to Joe Griffith, the big problem is that the suppliers don’t want to drill for new gas because of the uneven demand. We have huge demand in the winter and almost none in the summer. If we had something to use the gas in the summer there would be more incentive for the suppliers to drill. Apparently, you can’t just shut a gas well off when there is no demand, you risk the possibility of losing the well altogether if you do that.
There was the Agrium fertilizer plant at Nikiski, that previously used this gas in the summer but has since been shut down for economic reasons. There is no way to store the gas over the summer to use the next winter because we don’t have an LPG facility large enough to do that.
So, we face the real risk of rolling blackouts this winter. Of course, that will happen during the coldest days…fair warning, be prepared.
Chugach Contract Runs Out
The contract to purchase power from Chugach Electric runs out Jan 1, 2015. MEA is preparing to build a new facility to generate their own power on land to soon be purchased from Eklutna Native Corporation. This land lies on the North side of the Glenn Highway just East of Eklutna Village along the railroad tracks.
If everything goes as planned, (and we know they always do), MEA will purchase the land next month, begin planning the generator plant, order the huge generators and complete the plant by October 2014, leaving two months to test it before the contract runs out. Thats a two month window for delays…………. OK.
There is a lot left unsaid here.