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Story Last modified at 10:35 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MEA moves ahead with plans for $200 million Eklutna power plant
Gas source still hazy, and deadline looms for permit

Alaska Star

With elections right around the corner, Matanuska Electric Association's board of directors has approved two contracts that advance the utility's plans to build a natural gas-fueled power plant at Eklutna within three years.

The board on March 14 approved a $565,000 "limited notice to proceed" contract with CH2M Hill that starts the permitting, preliminary design, site layout and cost analysis. The board also approved a $250,000 contract with consulting firm R.W. Beck and Associates.

By 2014, MEA hopes to build an up to 170-megawatt power plant at a cost of around $200 million. That year is when the utility's contract with Chugach Electric Association to provide power expires.

The facility would occupy the site of the old Eklutna Power Plant, which operated until the 1940s. It would be located on a 70-acre parcel owned by Eklutna, Inc., on the east side of the Glenn Highway between the railroad tracks and the base of Eklutna Mountain. The power plant would cover 30 acres; the rest of the land would serve as a buffer.

MEA plans to start construction of the facility in about a year, spokeswoman Cheryll Heinze said in an e-mail.

The utility faces at least one rapidly approaching deadline. If MEA doesn't make a July 1 cutoff to apply for an air-quality permit, managers will need to apply for a more comprehensive permit that would take another year, Heinze said.

MEA also doesn't know where its fuel is coming from yet.

One option, Heinze said, depends on the success of three natural gas independents – Linc Energy Alaska, Nordaq Energy Partners, and Buccaneer Energy Ltd. – exploring for gas in Cook Inlet.

MEA is also investigating liquefied natural gas importation and compressed natural gas.

But diesel or jet fuel are also being considered as a "last alternative," Heinze wrote.

The board vote was unanimous in favor of the contracts.

As preliminary work proceeds on the plant, some board members are in the final run-up for elections.

Incumbents Peter Burchell and Janet Kincaid are up for re-election this year. They face challengers Ray DePriest, director of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District Career and Technical Education department, and former board member Bill Folsom.

As of mid-March, Burchell led in fundraising with $5,400, according to his 45-day campaign disclosure form. Folsom had raised $3,590, including $3,000 of his own money. Kincaid's campaign income was $3,324 and DePriest's was $720.

Mail-in ballots are due by 5 p.m. April 25. Results will be announced at Matanuska Electric Association's annual membership meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26 at Raven Hall at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.