The energy transition has a greater sense of urgency in Southcentral Alaska than almost anywhere else in the nation. Today, the Railbelt system — the interconnected grid that stretches from Homer to Fairbanks — is powered by approximately 85% fossil fuels and 15% renewables. At Chugach Electric Association, we recognize that we must diversify our energy resources to include new renewable generation that complements our dwindling natural gas resources to maintain reliable, economical, and low-carbon power for a sustainable future. We are aggressively pursuing new clean-energy projects in a manner that allows us to maintain the lowest rates on the Railbelt, supported by new technologies that enhance the potential of our existing assets to balance, or integrate, variable clean energy resources.
Today, Chugach’s annual energy mix is about 82% natural gas, 15% hydro and 3% wind, plus 0.1% solar we buy back from our members. This is a dynamic mix and varies by the hour, season and year. By diversifying our sources of energy, we can achieve long-term energy security by reducing our dependence on any single resource. A reliable and sustainable energy grid can be compared to a foundation with multiple supports working together to share the load. We must expand our generation mix to include proven technologies such as hydro, wind and solar energy. Together with our efficient natural gas generators, energy storage technologies, and modern control systems, we can diversify our energy mix and provide reliable power when it is needed throughout the year.
Chugach has made meaningful progress integrating variable clean energy with “firm” power from natural gas and hydro generators.
• With support from the Alaska Energy Authority and the Emerging Energy Technology Fund, Chugach deployed a hybrid flywheel and battery energy storage system to help integrate power from the Fire Island Wind project. This system has successfully helped Chugach integrate the variable wind resource and has informed our strategy to scale this concept to enable larger wind and solar projects.
• In 2021, we initiated a request for proposals for renewable energy projects that could provide 100,000 megawatt-hours, or approximately 5% of our annual energy need. In the fall of 2022, we advanced two proposed utility-scale projects — one wind, one solar — and initiated feasibility studies. If economically viable without negatively affecting rates, these renewable projects together may exceed our original goal and provide nearly 20% of our annual energy — pushing Chugach to almost 40% renewables.
• In 2021, Chugach requested and received approval from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to more than triple our allowance for “net metering,” which provides value for renewable energy generated by members with small-scale solar and wind. In 2022, 781 Chugach members participated in the net metering program.
• In 2022, the Chugach Board of Directors added decarbonization goals to our Strategic Plan which include reducing our carbon intensity by at least 35% by 2030 and at least 50% by 2040, using 2012 as the baseline year without a material negative impact on rates.
Integrating large clean-energy resources requires continued innovation and a modernized grid to maximize potential benefits. Chugach is pursuing proven technologies that can improve reliability and quality of service to our members, such as purchasing a large Tesla Megapack battery energy storage system that will be installed in Anchorage in 2024. Chugach is also evaluating and pursuing funding opportunities from the U.S. Department of Energy for innovative long-duration energy storage, modern protection-and-control systems, carbon-capture technology, and others. Partnerships with other utilities, Alaska Native corporations, the state of Alaska, and other organizations will enhance the benefit of these technological advancements for all Alaskans.
Our dynamic energy landscape mandates swift and decisive action that is just and reasonable for our members. Our energy transition must also support our mission of providing safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable energy. We will continue to work toward diversifying our energy resources, while maximizing the value of our existing investments and maintaining reliable service to our members. Chugach is proud to innovate and invest in clean energy and we are committed to our vision of responsibly developing energy resources for a clean, sustainable future for Alaska.
Bettina Chastain is the board chair and Arthur Miller is the chief executive officer of Chugach Electric Association, Inc.
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