Alaska News

Stakes are high in Chugach Electric vote

It's that time of year again: Chugach Electric Association election ballots will be mailed to 67,000 members on March 30.

Chugach is the largest electrical utility in Alaska, producing power for approximately two-thirds of Alaska's electric customers. Approximately three-quarters of Anchorage households and businesses are Chugach members. As such, Anchorage citizens have a direct voice in Alaska's energy future by casting a vote in the Chugach election.

So what are the big decisions that have to be made at Chugach?

We generate 90 percent of our electricity from Cook Inlet natural gas, which is running out and getting much more expensive. We need to move away from Cook Inlet gas. While there is hope for gas from the North Slope via a large pipeline or a bullet line, we can't count on it.

I would put my stock in renewable energy, a majority of it from hydro, supplemented with wind and maybe geothermal. Alaska has successfully developed hydroelectricity, namely Bradley Lake, Four Dam Pool and others. Alaskans own these assets and the fuel source is free and not subject to world petroleum prices. There are no carbon emissions and the potential taxes that go with it.

As for coordination with other utilities, the time has come. There is too much duplication and waste for each of the six Railbelt utilities to pursue generation and transmission on their own. We can't afford to go it alone. Gov. Palin's consolidation bill is a good step forward and will lead to more than $40 million in annual savings for Railbelt ratepayers.

In spite of these big issues, as predictable as spring, every year the "union" issue dominates the election. It is an effective campaign strategy to accuse candidates of being controlled by the union. This is unfortunate because it is not true, and because it distracts from the real issues.


Just to put things in perspective, in 2008, Chugach's operating costs were $283 million. The portion for union-represented employee wages and benefits was $24 million, 8.5 percent of operating costs. Contrast this with the $169 million that Chugach paid for natural gas in 2008, 59.7 percent of operating costs. In 2004, Chugach paid $84 million for natural gas. If you want to have a meaningful debate about why electric bills have gone up, we should be talking about our dependence on Cook Inlet gas and what we can do about it.

Please mail your ballots back by April 27 so you can participate in the important decisions determining our energy future.

Jim Nordlund is currently vice-chairman of the Chugach Board and a candidate for re-election.


Jim Nordlund

Jim Nordlund is the executive director of NeighborWorks Alaska. Previously, he was the Alaska State Director for USDA Rural Development, a private contractor building contractor, Director of Public Assistance for Alaska, and a member of the Alaska State House of Representatives.