Griffith: Electric bills likely to rise

MEA GM says fuel imports may be coming


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Joe Griffith, MEA general manager, speaks at a meeting of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Chommerce on Feb. 6, 2013 at the Eagle River Ale House.

Matt Tunseth

Anyone who pays for electricity in Alaska is in for a shock.

“Everybody’s bill is going up,” said Matanuska Electric Association general manager Joe Griffith at a meeting of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Feb. 6 at the Eagle River Ale House.

Griffith said a looming natural gas shortfall facing the state almost certainly won’t be solved in time to prevent increases. He doesn’t know exactly how much people’s bills will go up — but it won’t be pretty.

“It’s going to be substantial,” he said.

MEA is in the process of building a new power plant in Eklutna that will be capable of producing 170 megawatts of electricity. The plant will feature 10 engines each able to produce 17 megawatts of power. The engines will be able to run on either diesel or natural gas.

But without new production of natural gas for Alaska markets, Griffith said the plant will have to rely on imported fuel from Outside. And that won’t be cheap.

Griffith said the ramifications of the price increase could have a significant impact on the state’s economy.

“Our economy won’t work if we don’t have economical and reliable energy,” he said.

Alaska has lots of natural gas, but the primary source in Southcentral — Cook Inlet — isn’t producing nearly as much as it used to. And without new exploration, Griffith said the future is bleak.

“We urgently need the problem fixed,” he said.

Any potential fix, he said, could be at least a decade away. For years, Legislators have discussed building a natural gas pipeline, but that idea remains a dream. There’s also the potential to build a dam on the Susitna River — which Griffith said he supports — but it could take until 2024 to complete.

“The issues we’re dealing with are not trivial and they’re at near-crisis proportions,” he said.

Griffith said the last-ditch hope to stem an energy crisis is that new gas will be found in Cook Inlet. But drilling wells is expensive, he said, and even new finds in the inlet could take 2-4 years to get gas to market.

“Every one of us is standing around with our fingers crossed something will happen in Cook Inlet,” he said.

However, Griffith believes that it’s essentially a foregone conclusion that Alaska will end up having to import fuel from outside the energy-rich state’s borders.

“We’re going to have to do some importation,” he said.

Griffith said he can’t be sure exactly when the fuel crisis will force power costs to rise, but he estimated Alaskans have less than two years before their bills go up.

“Unfortunately, heat and light is not optional in Alaska,” he said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com.

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