For those of you that will be voting to sell or retain Seward’s electric utility, here are a few of my thoughts and observations. I feel somewhat qualified to speak on this topic due to my 40-plus years in power system safety, generation, transmission, and control. (I was also born and raised in Seward, returning home after retirement to the town I love.)
The City of Seward routinely uses its electric customers not only to fund the power system, but as a cash cow to fund other parts of the City budget to the tune of around a million dollars per year. Due to a lack of diligence and forward planning, the Seward electric system now needs nearly $20 million for maintenance and infrastructure upgrades that were put off for several years. If that money siphoned off to the other City coffers was spent on the power system, the system would be in much better shape today.
Seward has a difficult time hiring and keeping qualified experts in many areas, and the Electric Department is no exception. A sale to Homer or Chugach Electric will immediately give us access to qualified personnel in every department: generation, transmission, distribution, fuel supply, communications, customer service, etc. Not blaming the City here. Being so small, Seward just can’t compete due to a lack of year-round housing and the other Co-op’s ability to pay higher salaries.
A sale to either utility will bring much-needed modernization to the Seward system. SCADA, (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition,) which is used by all of the other Railbelt utilities, will allow monitoring and control of all electronic switchable points of the system. This will hasten outage response time and help the linemen pinpoint where a failure happened on the transmission line. The generators will also be able to be remotely started, synchronized with the system, and set to any desired loads from a power control center. As noted, Seward is the only utility on the Railbelt that has to manually start, stop, and control their generators.
If Homer buys the Seward utility, and Homer’s new Grant Lake Hydro plant comes on line, we will be able to say at times that over half of Seward’s power is generated by green energy. Seward’s load is about 10 MW, Grant Lake will produce about 5 MW and Seward has a one MW share of the Bradley Lake Hydro project located near Homer. That should be a benefit when negotiating with the cruise ship companies, who I have heard like to hook up to shore power if the source is “green.”
Lastly, if the utility is sold, all electric customers will be members of the Co-op, and will get to take part in electing the board of directors. One great thing about a Board of Directors is that it exists to run the power system in the safest and most financially sound manner. A person elected to the board immediately begins training in all aspects of how a power system should be run. That is so different from a City Council, which as far as I can tell, rarely has a member that becomes an expert on how a power system works. Again, not their fault, it is just the way it is.
In closing, I must reiterate – the Electric Customers should not be a cash cow for anything except the safety and security of the power system that serves them. I strongly feel the sale of the electric utility will give us the benefit of a better, modern system run by a much larger, professional power system staff.
Thanks for your time.