Cook Inlet natural gas – the fuel for roughly 85% of our region’s electricity – could fall short by 2027, according to a report released in January by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Previous DNR gas supply studies have estimated that prices would need to increase by 50-100% by 2030 for gas extraction to break even. Natural gas dependence is a deep vulnerability for our region, and we need to diversify our energy ASAP.
HEA has been on this path since 2021, when its board of directors set a goal of being 50% renewable by the end of 2025. Since then, HEA has begun wind exploration in four locations, entered negotiations with a company planning to build the state’s largest solar farm on the peninsula, and sought funding to investigate wind turbines on old oil platforms and geothermal power on Mt. Augustine. In October, the HEA board saw the results of a computer model which found that the co-op could reliably reach 50% renewables and save money by doing so — even without factoring in the certainty that gas prices are going to rise.
Is this possible by the end of 2025? Unlikely, but having this goal gives HEA’s staff a high target to aim at and a good direction for their modeling and planning. Achievable or not, the ambitious goal is serving the co-op well in a time when the need to use less gas and diversify energy is urgent.
Two board election cycles have passed since the co-op’s directors set the goal, and HEA’s practice of annually re-approving board policies keep it in a precarious place. When the renewable goal was up for re-approval at HEA’s Feb. 14 board meeting, the board cast a tied vote (made possible by the absence of Director Mike Chenault) on whether or not to affirm it.
An ambitious goal is valuable, even if the timeframe is too short for it to be fully realized, said HEA Director C.O Rudstrom.
“We could set a goal that says, ‘well yeah, we could make 22 percent by some date, and that’s the best we can do, and that’s how we’re going to do it. We’re not going to shoot for the stars, we’re going to shoot for mediocrity.’ I don’t want to shoot for mediocrity. I want to shoot for the best,” Rudstrom said. “This is a goal that’s driving us to do better, and do well, and I think we should keep this board policy as it stands.”
The eight present board members tied 4-4 on whether or not to re-approve the goal. But failing to re-approve it did not mean ending it, so the renewable goal survived on a technicality. Before voting against re-approval, director Robert Wall made an unsuccessful motion to table the vote until September, after the board’s strategic planning session in August. There is likely to be further contention over the renewable goal in 2023, but before that fall planning session, the HEA board will have an election for three of its seats.
Voting opens from March 31 to May 4, and Inletkeeper will be campaigning for candidates who support the renewable goal and recognize we have no time to waste in reducing our gas dependence.