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Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) Board of Directors awards Wartsila North America $100 million + contract


The MEA Board of Directors unanimously approved the award of a $100-million-plus contract for engine generator units at the February 12 board meeting in Palmer, and ratified the confidential action at the March 12th Board meeting in public session.  Wartsila, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of flexible and efficient power plants, was awarded the contract to supply the power house engineering and engine/generating equipment for a new power plant at Eklutna, Alaska.

Ten, 18-cylinder Wartsila 50DF (V configuration) dual-fuel generating sets will provide 171 mW of power to the Railbelt transmission system and to MEA’s roughly 4,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines.  General Manager Joe Griffith noted that “our member area is the fastest growing in the State of Alaska.  We are confident that our choice of Wartsila engine/gen sets provides the most reliable and cost-efficient power available while meeting our projected load.”

Adding a new technology to the Railbelt, each dual-fuel 18-cylinder Wartsila 50DF generating set will be operated primarily on natural gas.  However, in case of interruption to the gas supply, the advanced Wartsila dual-fuel technology enables the engines to switch smoothly while operating to an alternative fuel, in this case diesel.  “In the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake, these engines can switch fuels without a hiccup” states Griffith “and that was a huge factor in our decision to go with Wartsila.”

Weighing in at 355 tons each, 50DF technology also provides the efficiency and environmental sustainability required by current air emission standards.  Low emission levels and reduced fuel consumption gives these engines a substantial edge over alternative prime movers--gas turbines.  Another important factor in the selection is that the Wartsila generating sets meet the State of Alaska air quality permits specific to this site.

Beginning last fall, a negotiating team of MEA executives began meeting with the Wartsila representatives from Finland and the US.   Gary Kuhn, Director of Engineering for MEA stated that “it was a lengthy but detailed process. These engines are highly efficient and responsive under a wide range of operations and loads.  The machines are incredibly high tech and a lot of the issues before the negotiating team were related to that technology.”  The dual-fuel engine utilizes a “lean-burn” Otto Cycle Combustion process when operating on gas.   Wartsilas are known for their low heat rate which is a measure of the fuel going into the machine compared to the electricity coming out of them.  According to Wartsila the 50DF has shown an efficiency of over 48%, which is probably a record at this time.

The gas-diesel process can tolerate big variations in the gas quality and is especially suitable for “non-pipeline quality gas” such as associated gas in oil fields. The power plant will provide base load generation for MEA.

 With the engines’ efficiency and low heat rate, these units will likely be called on first to generate electricity for the Railbelt.  Don Zoerb, MEA CFO, related that by “signing this contract we have made the major commitment to ensure the timely completion of this project; actually we are right on schedule and perhaps a little ahead.”  Of the ten engines MEA contracted for, eight have already been built and are ready for shipment.  The remaining two will be built in Trieste, Italy.   

MEA is the prime contractor on the power plant.  Stanley Consultants, a leader in the electricity consulting and engineering market, has done the design basis engineering for the facility.  MEA will be awarding a series of major contracts for design and construction of the key plant elements, with possibly multiple locally sourced contracts available.  Stanley Consultants and in-house staff are presently preparing the RFP’s for those contracts and should have them on the street inside of 45-60 days from the March decision date.

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