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Railbelt Utilities Sign Groundbreaking Agreement

Jan 8, 2020 | Monitor

After years of effort, all six Railbelt utilities have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to move forward with an organization to work more closely together to manage Alaska’s largest interconnected grid.

The Railbelt Reliability Council (RRC) is the organization that will define and enforce electric reliability standards, coordinate joint planning through an integrated resource planning process, and ensure consistent interconnection protocols for utilities, independent power producers,` and others who would like to use the grid. The RRC will also study if there are more effective ways for the Railbelt electric system to reduce fuel costs for ratepayers.

The RRC meets requirements established in a 2015 letter from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) to the Alaska State Legislature indicating the need for reform on the Railbelt and requesting voluntary solutions from the utilities.

As in similar structures that exist throughout the Lower 48, the RRC will be governed by a mix of utility and non-utility stakeholders. In addition to the six utility seats, the twelve-member Board will include six non-utility seats: the Alaska Energy Authority, two independent power producers, a consumer advocacy group, and two independent, unaffiliated members. In addition, the RCA and the state agency for Regulatory Affairs and Public Advocacy (RAPA) will each fill an ex-officio, non-voting seat. A thirty-day public notice requesting applications from individuals or organizations interested in applying for one of the undesignated, non-utility seats was released on January 3.

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The recently signed MOU lays out a basic structure for the RRC and indicates steps to form an Implementation Committee responsible for developing the foundational documents and setting up the organization. The utilities will file the executed MOU with the RCA by the end of the year. Based on the timeline established in the MOU, it is anticipated the Implementation Committee will be formed by April 2020 with the goal of completing their work by December 2020.

The signatory utilities include Anchorage Municipal Light and Power (ML&P) and Chugach Electric Association (CEA) serving the Anchorage area; Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) in Fairbanks serving the Interior; Homer Electric Association (HEA) serving the majority of the Kenai Peninsula; Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) serving the Mat-Su Valley and Eagle River; and Seward Electric, a municipally-owned utility serving the Seward area.

 

The following are perspectives provided by each of the utilities and the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA):

 

Chugach Electric Association:

“The signing of this MOU represents a significant amount of work and great progress among the utilities,” said Chugach CEO Lee Thibert. “The goal is to work better together on behalf of ratepayers to improve reliability, enhance cyber security, and have long-term planning within the Railbelt.”

 

Golden Valley Electric Association:

“The Railbelt Utilities have worked together for years to create a reliable electric utility system having filed Railbelt-wide reliability standards in 2018 and new Cyber Security standards in 2019 which become effective January 1, 2020. This new RRC will build on those efforts,” said GVEA CEO Cory Borgeson. “Once again the Railbelt utilities have demonstrated the ability to work together.”

 

Homer Electric Association:

With long term value for all Alaskan Railbelt consumers in mind, General Manager Brad Janorschke commented, “Homer Electric Association looks forward to working symbiotically with all the Railbelt utilities and non-utility stakeholders alike to make this happen.”

 

Matanuska Electric Association:

“MEA would like to thank the utility and non-utility partners who were part of this collaborative process,” said MEA CEO Tony Izzo. “The agreement represents an opportunity to work together in new ways to ensure our interconnected electric system can meet the evolving needs of the region’s members, businesses, and communities.”

 

Municipal Light & Power:

“This agreement demonstrates the willingness of the utilities to work cooperatively for the benefit of ratepayers throughout the Railbelt,” said ML&P General Manager Anna Henderson. “ML&P’s objective is to enhance security and provide more reliable, cost-effective electric service for businesses, and families.”

 

Seward Electric:

“I am happy to see all the hard work get us to this historic moment and I am excited to continue working for a better and more efficient Alaska,” said John Foutz, General Manager of Seward Electric.

 

Alaska Energy Authority:

“The Alaska Energy Authority owns significant generation and transmission assets on the Railbelt and is pleased with this progress. We are hopeful this first step leads to maximum efficiencies and positive benefits for ratepayers. Our mission is to reduce the cost of energy in Alaska, and we believe this MOU supports that mission, and will help keep efforts moving forward,” said AEA Executive Director Curtis W. Thayer.

Alaska Business Magazine June 2020 Cover

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Alaskans have some experience both with isolation and sudden emergencies. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, seasonal flooding, and wildfires seldom schedule their arrival. And while emerging technology and developing infrastructure have allowed Alaska to become more connected, as Alaskans we know we’re still at the end of the road—even more so for those living beyond the road in Alaska’s remote communities.

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