Saturday, November 10, 2007

MEA Coal Plant Plan Bites the Dust

Matanuska Electrical Association, a so-called utility "co-op," that has been run by a board of directors with more neural links to the animals that roamed the earth when coal was being created than to modern mankind, has announced plans to shelve their Palmer coal-fired power plant for at least five years. MEA General Manager, Wayne Carmony announced, in an e-mail to board members, that "until problems with the borough's ordinance can be addressed and recent spikes in world coal plant prices stabilize, it is imprudent to proceed with construction of the coal portion" of the utility's plan to provide more power in the future for its service area.

The utility hasn't yet made a public announcement. Carmony's e-mail has surfaced, prompting Anchorage Daily News reporter Rindi White - who knows the Mat-Su Valley political arena - to get a statement from MEA spokeswoman, Lorali Carter. Carter said little, other than that MEA RFPs for their plant structure and infrastructure aren't getting the responses the board's denizens would like to hear. I read that to mean that the predictions of huge cost overruns on the project by the local groups Utility Watch and MEA Ratepayers Alliance were accurate.

I'm on the board of Palmer-based Friends of Mat-Su. When this issue surfaced early last spring, we debated how or whether FoMS should weigh in on this issue. We ended up strongly supporting educational efforts on the issue in the community, and met with representatives of the two orgs referenced above.

Over the next week, you'll probably see MEA trot out Carmony and Director of Human Resources and Corporate Affairs, Tuckerman Babcock, to blame their failure on others. Commenters at the Anchorage Daily News article on the MEA non-announcement are leading the way, blaming the Carmony decision on the Friends of Mat-Su, and on one of the Valley's - and Alaska's - leading progressives, Jim Sykes, Utility Watch's frontline spokesman.

There is a recall movement afoot against MEA board members Lee B. Jordan, David Dahms, and Larry DeVilbis. The petition is close to having the number of signatures necessary to hold a recall election. With the lengthening string of progressive victories in what was once a bastion of wingnuttiness, even by Alaska standards, these three dinosaurs will never be able to feel the heat of what they love to call clean coal warming their tootsies. But they ARE feeling the heat of the ongoing progressive and populist revolutions in Alaska.

To me, the best long-term solutions to this set of problems are a pooling of utility sources to build a geothermal plant in the Alaska Range, and to build a hydroelectric dam in the upper Susitna River valley. These would both be very expensive initially, but would create no air pollution. Projects like these need Federal and State money, though. Representative Don Young has halfheartedly introduced legislation on the Susitna Dam, but he's not going to be a player in how these problems eventually get solved. One way or another, Young is serving his final term in Congress.

Of the three Democratic candidates running against each other to take Young's (or Young's appointed successor's) seat, Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz have made renewable energy for Alaska's future major parts of their platforms. The third candidate, Jake Metcalfe, when questioned in August about his position on the MEA plant proposal as it then existed, told me "I'll have to think about that." His major campaign supporter, IBEW, hasn't issued a statement on their position on the original MEA proposal either.

More coming....