Chugach Electric Association board candidates differ on approaches to renewable energy, natural gas crisis

Two incumbents on the board of the Chugach Electric Association are facing two challengers as the utility grapples with crucial questions, including how to respond to a looming natural gas shortage that could drive up electric rates.

The election at the utility, the state’s largest power cooperative with 91,000 members, started on Wednesday. It ends May 17 when candidates with the most votes will take the two seats.

Todd Lindley and Dan Rogers are running for seats held by Chair Sam Cason and board member Mark Wiggin.

The election comes as the utility scrambles to find alternative sources of power to Cook Inlet natural gas after Hilcorp warned utilities in 2022 it may not be able to renew expiring natural gas contracts, including the Chugach Electric contract in 2028.

The utility is working to find solutions. It’s expected to import liquefied natural gas that will raise costs. It’s also pursuing wind and energy projects that could hold down long-term costs.

Lindley and Rogers are running separately, but they have teamed up on a campaign website to help get their views out. Lindley is a mechanical engineer for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and previously worked for ExxonMobil. Rogers is an electrical engineer who has worked for Chugach Electric and has experience integrating renewable power into electrical grids in Alaska.

Rogers said the website is aimed at counteracting the support incumbents have received from The Alaska Center, a progressive group that works on a range of issues including conservation.


The Alaska Center has endorsed Cason and Wiggin. Cason is a former public advocate before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. Wiggin is a former deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

The Alaska Center website calls the incumbents “proven community leaders who support the development and harnessing of renewable energy here at home.”

The Renewable Energy Alaska Project and the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have also endorsed Cason and Wiggin.

Addressing the gas crisis

Lindley and Rogers distinguished themselves from the incumbents on some issues at a Chamber of Commerce lunch forum on Monday.

The four candidates all indicated that natural gas imports will be necessary in the short-term.

For long-term solutions, the candidates expressed varying levels of support for renewable energy, like wind and solar, as part of the solution.

But the challengers emphasized the importance of relying on firm sources of power. They highlighted the importance of hydropower, a renewable energy considered more reliable than wind or solar power that’s not always available.

And Lindley and Rogers suggested coal could be part of the mix as well.

A study from the University of Alaska Fairbanks this year has recommended that a coal-fired power plant be built in Southcentral Alaska to generate electricity for the Railbelt. The study assumes that a coal power plant would be built off the contentious West Susitna Access Road near proven coal seams.

Rogers called himself a “hydro guy” and said he understands coal is a “dirty word.” But he suggested a coal plant could be developed quickly and be fitted with new carbon capture and storage technology to allow carbon dioxide emissions to be stored underground.

Lindley said “renewables have their place.”

“But when we’re looking at meeting the mission of affordability and reliability, you gotta look at firm power sources and those come from natural gas, coal and hydro,” he said.

The costs of renewables also have to be considered and Alaska has abundant sources of firm power that can lower costs, Lindley said.

Wiggin said he’s a “longtime oil and gas guy” with experience working in that industry. But it’s “insanity” for the utility to continue relying on natural gas for more than 80% of its power, he said.

Renewable use needs to be expanded, which can offset the cost of importing liquefied natural gas, Wiggin said.

Cason emphasized that the utility has a “generational opportunity” to diversify its assets. Integrating renewables cost-effectively will require learning from other entities around the world, he said.

Differences on a renewable power standard

Lindley and Rogers said they don’t support a renewable portfolio standard for utilities.


Bills before the Legislature in recent years have proposed a renewable power target for utilities in Alaska of 80% by 2040, with penalties for noncompliance.

Lindley called the proposals “irresponsible” and said a renewable portfolio standard would lead to higher costs for ratepayers.

Rogers said he doesn’t think the Legislature should be directing the experts at the utilities how to do their jobs.

Cason and Wiggin said they support a renewable standard, though they do not support the potential penalties for utilities the bills have called for.

They voted in support of a standard when the Chugach Electric board approved one earlier this year, though that resolution did not include specific targets.

Wiggin said the problem with the proposed penalties is that ratepayers would be responsible for the costs associated with the fines.

Cason said 80% renewable power by 2040 may not be the right target.

“What we do believe is that whatever we can do to decrease the cost of financing to make our energy market more competitive is a positive and good thing for the ratepayers, for our members, for the long-term sustainability,” he said.


He said the utility needs to reduce its dependence on natural gas.

“No investment adviser worth his salt will tell you to put all of your assets in one security,” Cason said. “We have 80% of our assets in one security. We need to diversify.”

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or