Three seats on Homer Electric Association’s nine-member Board of Directors are each being sought by two candidates. The cooperative utility, which supplies electricity to approximately 23,600 member-owners on the Kenai Peninsula, will mail ballots to members on April 3 and announce election results at its annual meeting, held May 4 at Soldotna High School.
HEA has three election districts, each represented by three directors who serve three-year terms. One seat in each district is up for election each year. This year, each district has both an incumbent and a challenger.
District One (Kenai, Nikiski, part of Kasilof): Kelly Bookey &Kate Veh
Retired truck-driver and commercial fisherman Kelly Bookey is running for his third term as an HEA director. His first was in 2011.
“I guarantee you, the first two years you’re elected, you don’t know what’s going on,” Bookey said of the complex business of running a utility. “And by the time you figure out what’s going on, you’re up for another term. I’ve already had that one done, and I’m up to snuff as much as possible — you’re never up to snuff because everything changes in five minutes — but I’ve got the experience and the time put in that I don’t have to start the learning curve all over again.”
Kate Veh, a former special education teacher and orthodontic assistant, said she discovered an interest in utilities when her neighborhood near K-Beach Road installed a well system with 32 hookups to homes in the area. Veh said she volunteered to manage the well, making sure it was within water quality standards. She managed the well for three years, according to the candidate information packet she submitted to HEA. Now, she’s turned her interest in community participation toward electricity — a dry subject, she said, but one that people should be more concerned about.
“I’d just ask people — what do you think?” Veh said. “How could you be more excited about the electricity that comes through your wires and enters your home? What would make this amazing to you, and what would make you interested in this?”
District 2 (Soldotna, Sterling): Dick Waisanen &Daniel Furlong
HEA Board of Directors President Dick Waisanen previously worked as a teacher in various Alaskan towns and as a school principal in Kenny Lake. Before his retirement he also owned a bed and breakfast. He’s served two terms as an HEA director, sitting as the board’s treasurer from 2011 to 2013 and its president since 2013.
Waisanen said he wants to continue to be involved in HEA’s future plans, such as the beginning of repayment of back capital credits in the coming year, and expressed admiration for the way cooperative enterprises empower communities, recalling cooperative feed stores, groceries, and a creamery from his youth in Minnesota.
Daniel Furlong, retired from a career in commercial glass, door and window installation, and construction management, said he decided to seek a directorship after HEA’s election last year over whether or not to withdraw from the oversight of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, the state entity that monitors public utilities.
“That kind of got me interested,” Furlong said. “I thought maybe I ought to have a little input on this and get involved. It doesn’t do any good to sit back in your rocking chair and complain about something if you don’t step up to solve the problem.”
District 3 (Southern Peninsula from Cohoe Loop to Nanwalek): Jim Levine &Doug Stark
Jim Levine, a construction project manager with Jay Brant General Contractors, previously sat one term on the HEA board from 2009 to 2014, and was appointed again to the board in 2016, filling a vacancy in the seat he’s now running to retain.
Levine could not be reached for an interview by press time.
Former Homer City Council member and 2010 mayoral candidate Doug Stark, an engineer by profession, has previously been a board member of HEA’s neighboring utility cooperative Chugach Electric Association, and has unsuccessfully run in HEA elections twice before. He wrote in his candidate information package that his goal if elected would be to “make it difficult for additional rate increases.”
As a public utility with a monopoly over electricity delivery in the Kenai Peninsula, HEA’s rate practices are overseen by the state Regulatory Commission of Alaska. State code lets a utility cooperative withdraw from this oversight with a majority vote of 15 percent of its members. HEA’s Board of Directors unanimously voted in April 2016 to hold such an election. In December 2016, 70 percent of the voting membership chose to remain regulated. State code prohibits another deregulation election within the next two years.
Bookey said he believes the board is unlikely to discuss deregulation after that time. If it does, Veh she’d be opposed.
“I would say I would not approach that vote again in two years,” Veh said. “In the meantime I’d concentrate on reaching out to people, being as friendly as I could and being as open to people as I could, and try to build up a little more rapport with people.”
Stark said he didn’t support deregulation either.
“I’m very much against that and I would have taken a strong position on that, except it broke while I was out of town for a few weeks,” Stark said of the deregulation proposal. “I’m very much in favor of continuing the oversight by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska… I have more confidence in them than I do in the majority opinion of the board.”
Furlong said more communication could have made the process go better. He attended an HEA presentation on the issue in Sterling.
“They (HEA) spent a substantial amount of money to put that out for people to vote on,” Furlong said. “And I listened to their presentation and I wasn’t really sold on the reason they wanted to do that. I think the election itself proved that point — I don’t think they really communicated with the members prior to spending the money to put that out for vote … I think the board members should have communicated individually with the consumers and the shareholders of HEA on a regular basis and got a better feel for the community before they decided to spend the money to even put it up for election.”
Bookey said that HEA members should also be reaching out.
“I’d be willing to bet that in the six years I’ve been on the board I’ve seen three people show up for the meetings,” Bookey said. “We can’t read your minds. I know people get mad at us because of some decision we made, but you need to show up every once in a while and voice your mind.”
The HEA Board of Directors meets the second Tuesday of every month at the HEA office in Kenai.
All the candidates spoke on the necessity of developing renewable power.
In Nov. 2016, the HEA board received an update on six renewable energy projects the utility may consider: a plan to increase Bradley Lake’s generation by diverting water into reservoir from the nearby Battle Creek, the possibility of buying into an expansion of the Fire Island wind farm near Anchorage, measures to promote electric vehicles, a project that would burn methane gas generated by decomposition in Soldotna’s Central Peninsula Landfill, a member-funded solar farm and a hydroelectric plant on Moose Pass’s Grant Lake, which has been in the design and permitting stages since 2009.
Stark favored the Battle Creek diversion, saying that if more water is diverted into Bradley Lake, it might allow a third turbine to be installed in the plant.
Waisanen said he was a strong supporter of the Grant Lake hydro project, but was wary of its rising cost estimate. The 5 megawatt power station is estimated to cost $58.93 million by the time it is constructed, according to a prospective grant tally by the Alaska Energy Authority.
Bookey said he’d voted against starting the Grant Lake hydroelectic project, but now that it’s in progress said he’d like to see it continue — though Bookey said he was most excited about the possibility of harvesting Cook Inlet’s strong tides.
“We’ve got unlimited, basically free power out here in this Inlet,” Bookey said. “The only problem we have is to figure out how we can do it without hurting fish, and the biggest thing out here is the silt. It just tears up everything, but I know there’s got to be ways we can come around that.”
Between 2011 and 2015, the Maine-based tidal energy start-up Ocean Renewable Power Company held a Federal Energy Regulatory Permit to build a tidal turbine station off Nikiski’s East Forelands coast. HEA partnered in the project as an energy buyer. According to its FERC permit application, the East Forelands tidal project was designed to generate up to 17.2 gigawatt-hours per year, but ORPC discontinued the project in December 2015, when ORPC Director of Environmental Affairs wrote to FERC that “the strength of the conventional energy market in Alaska precludes timely integration of new technology,” and that consequently “public and private funding sources have sought nearer-term market impact from their investments.”