Mixed Messages

A couple of significant reports are out recently with respect to climate disruption. One is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change with their 2014 report on mitigation. Another is from the

  • 3rd report of the National Climate Assessment Research Board, Both reports confirm the direction and consequences of climate disruption.

    From a local perspective, this contrasts with the University of Alaska Fairbanks now in design and next year beginning construction of a $247 mm coal-fired power plant to replace their older coal-fired power plant and Golden Valley Electric Association board approving a nearly $200 million investment in an already $300 million coal-fired power plant that was constructed and been mothballed in 1997 located in Healy, by Denali National Park.

    This is progress?

  • Status

    Consolidation of blogs


    I’ve now consolidated comity.blogspot.com and gotsense.wordpress.com to this site.
    The theme was Comity and Common Sense, an Alaskan’s View on our world

    For GVEA related posts after Nov. 2006, see gvea.blogspot.com


    There doesn’t seem to be much sense in the world these days.   Trying to do the right thing is either barking up a tree or gets one into trouble in the line of ‘no good deeds go unpunished’.  

    Middle East-Africa (Syria, Egypt, Kenya, Somalia)

    Congressional Republicans determined to commit sepuku with failure to approve a budget for the government

    Pettiness and selfishness.

    To name a few.

    Maybe I’m in a cynical mood and need to change my perspective?  Maybe people are overwhelmed with input from so many directions (media for example)?   Maybe this one extra blog will send someone over the edge from overload?  

    I better stop now before I’m blamed for someone’s dissembling.

    Nor’easter blows into Fairbanks

    We had a fast-paced but fun visit from Max’s band Nor’easter the beginning of February, coming to Fairbanks for the Contra Borealis Dancer’s Winter Dance Weekend.   Got all the siblings out to dance (Alex wins the stamina award) and Joan also joined for a concert at the College Coffeehouse.   The band and Brattleboro, VT caller Rebecca Lay returned to the Northeast just in time for a real Nor’easter.    You can listen to the band’s interview and music on our public radio station KUAC.  Took everyone dog mushing and on a trip to Chena Hot Springs for a surreal soak surrounded by snow and ice.   Max’s brother Ben, now living and working in Anchorage for the Alaska Dept. of Transportation, got to host them for a couple of evening prior as a special contradance was arranged for band and caller in Anchorage.   An awesome time was had by all. Image

    Ostrich like Behavior

    I tried to send an email to Rep. David Obey, who Alaska’s congressional rep Don Young was castigating for suggesting it was time to do something about minimizing our contributions to the increased threat of climate change. Obey doesn’t want to be contacted by anyone other than his 7th district Wisconsin constituents, so I had to pretend to be from there in order to be allowed the privilege of apologizing for the ostrich like behavior of my congressional rep from Alaska. I didn’t expect a response, nor have I received one.

    Young hasn’t changed his stripes, still asserting that there is no agreement on climate change or that man might be causing some of it. He’ll die before admitting any such thing, as he still says there needs to be a serious debate amongst scientists. Excuse me, isn’t that what was taking place for 20 years. Debate time is over, let’s try the common sense approach. But that’s not the Don Young’s Way. I’m glad that his comments weren’t reported in most national news media. What an embarrassment.

    The Boondoogle Continues – When Will We Ever Learn?

    As one who has followed the sad saga of the experimental coal fired power plant project in Healy, Alaska since 1990, some of the editorials advocating for continued investment in it have been missing some critical points.

    Usibelli Coal and GVEA championed a $105 million federal grant to build the plant, though neither incurred much risk. Usibelli wanted to market unsalable quality coal to the plant and GVEA wanted a free functional power plant. Their combined efforts got the State of Alaska to take ownership through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), with an added $25 million direct Legislative appropriation in 1990. The federal Clean Coal Technology program, initially set up to find ways to reduce acid rain from coal plants, ended up providing $105 million to find out if the two technologies tested worked. They got what they needed, leaving AIDEA with cost overruns and legal bills that now exceed about $200 million more for a total of over $350 million.

    AIDEA wants to off‐load the plant to GVEA for $50 million as is. GVEA is in a bind as they allowed the plant not only to be constructed on GVEA property, but to be attached to GVEA’s existing 25 mw Healy plant, through which both plants share infrastructure. GVEA and AIDEA, after nearly a decade of suing each other, have signed a purchase agreement which is very hard for GVEA to back out of, barring 3rd party litigation or failing to get their air quality permit approved.

    GVEA estimates $45 million to modify the experimental plant to be acceptable for GVEA to own and operate, for a total of $95 million debt for GVEA. One current milestone is receiving an air quality permit from the State of Alaska with concurrence from the E.P.A. , responsible for reviewing such permits. This plant was constructed next to Denali National Park and the original permit was issued in 1994 with added requirements to not impact the airshed of one of Alaska’s and the country’s natural treasures.

    While new elements in permitting power plants are not yet regulated (mercury, CO2), newer technology is now available than from 18 years ago when the air quality permits were last issued. This best available current technology would add $20‐$40 million more to the $45 million retrofit price tag, for a total to GVEA members of $125‐$145 million. I don’t see where this increased cost is built into GVEA’s touted savings of 10% on fuel cost (5% of rate‐payers bills).

    I recently reminded the GVEA board recently that members just removed a restriction on outstanding debt no more than $450 million ($350 million was outstanding debt) with public promises from the board that they would be cautious in not over‐borrowing. However, in the past few months, GVEA has announced borrowing for $93 million for Eva Creek Wind Project, over $100 million for trucking natural gas to the North Pole generator, and now over $100 million for buying and retrofitting the experimental coal plant in Healy. These loans mean that in less than a year, GVEA will have doubled the debt to the cooperative. Debt service, interest, and depreciation are the major components of rate‐payers’ utility charge. The board will be incurring 20 years of debt for a promise of short term savings, which are likely to be overshadowed by other economic means of cost reduction, such as natural gas, hydro, conservation.

    Some argue that coal as a fuel source makes sense because it is cheap. The only reason it is cheap is because the full external cost to the environment is not included. The EPA was already instructed by the Supreme Court to start regulating CO2. Some Congressmen says that’s Congress’ job, but they oppose doing so. Mercury and coal ash are likely to be factors in the near future. There is a reason that the Rural Utility Service doesn’t loan on coal plants any more. GVEA’s purchase of this plant is a 20 year commitment. It is estimated to take 18 months to get on line, within months of when trucked natural gas is scheduled to begin.

    Complicated history, but figure this plant, if restarted, will likely have sucked down nearly half a BILLION dollars if allowed to proceed. I understand rate‐payers want relief from high energy prices, but I believe that re‐starting the experimental coal fired power plant in Healy won’t save us in the long term and will remain the boondoggle that everyone agrees it has become.

    Will the RCA regulatory body ask utilities to implement conservation?

    Will the Regulatory Commission of Alaska ask utilities to implement conservation? Not if their staff report is implemented. You can read more about this regulatory issue on R-09-005.

    The sad part about the recommendations is that the federal government offered some guidance and then offered it to the states to look at or come up with their own ideas. The Alaska Legislature, through an Energy Policy with SB 220 provided further incentive. Yet the RCA’s staff recommendation is just to get trained up more. This docket has been out there for nearly 2 years, plenty of time for training.

    I say it is time to get off their duff and work for the long term benefit of the consumers they are charged to represent. I urge anyone who has the stamina to read the documents to at least comment to the RCA. Comments are due Dec. 9, 2010 by 4 pm.

    Oxymoronic “black is white”

    I’ve often noted the oxymoronic expression “Clean Coal”. It’s why I refer to the DOE/State of Alaska funded “experimental coal fired power plant in Healy” instead of the “clean coal technology” power plant. It may just be less dirty than its neighbor plant. By the time GVEA gets done with the rehab though, I’m not sure if it will still be true.

    A commercial now airing on some cable channels also takes on this topic, by the Coen Brothers.