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New HEA strategic plan pursues renewables without portfolio goal

The Homer Electric Association building in Homer on Dec. 21, 2023. The electric cooperative voted to replace their energy portfolio goal with an energy diversification policy on Dec. 12.
Jamie Diep
The Homer Electric Association building in Homer on Dec. 21, 2023. The electric cooperative released a new strategic plan in February with a focus on renewable energy.

After getting rid of its 50% renewable energy goal late last year, Homer Electric Association released its strategic plan for the next three years.

The plan lays out the general direction the utility focuses on, and the new plan will run until 2026. It prioritizes looking beyond natural gas as an energy source, which currently makes up 80 to 90% of its power at any given point. HEA is also working on its other member services, from adding an online member application to expanding its electric-vehicle charging and heat-pump rebate programs.

The utility used to have an ambitious goal of reaching 50% renewable energy by 2025, but HEA’s board of directors changed that goal to a broader energy diversification policy last December.

HEA Chief Strategy Officer Keriann Baker said this change gives the utility more flexibility in pursuing reliable energy sources for members.

“The reality is the market and price should be pushing those things, and so us walking back their renewable policy, it doesn't mean that we're still not going after our wind projects or our solar projects,” she said, “all that means to us is we're going to look at price, and we're going to try and diversify to the extent possible.”

The utility currently gets some renewable energy from a power plant at Bradley Lake. Owned by the Alaska Energy Authority and operated by HEA, Bradley Lake produces hydroelectric energy that is split among HEA and five other utilities, with 12% of its output going to HEA. HEA’s strategic plan highlights a focus on other renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy.

Baker said one project in the works is building a large scale solar farm. This involves working with an independent power producer, or IPP, who will build the farm and sell power to HEA. She said the project hit a roadblock in securing a location for the solar farm, which has its challenges.

“A lot of times people will not want, they won't, don't want a bunch of solar located in their neighborhood. You know, some people don't want to see a windmill, out in the inlet,” she said.

In addition to solar, HEA is working with other companies to explore bringing tidal and geothermal energy to the peninsula. Private companies GeoAlaska and Ignis Energy have been studying Augustine Volcano as a potential geothermal energy source. HEA received a grant last year from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund to look into the feasibility of bringing that energy onto the Kenai Peninsula last May.

For people on the peninsula who want to see more renewables used, these projects are promising. However, Ben Boettger, an energy policy analyst with Cook Inletkeeper, says the lack of a goal is concerning.

“What's really missing from, from what's been presented to the public is anything, anything specific, any percentage goals that those exist for, for integrating these types of, of renewable energy,” he said.

In the meantime, the utility will continue to rely on natural gas as its main energy source. Baker said HEA currently has a contract with Hilcorp for natural gas, and Enstar will become its new supplier after the contract expires.

“Natural gas will be a part of our strategic energy going forward, and for the foreseeable future for all utilities in Alaska and elsewhere,” she said.

As projects develop with HEA in the coming years, Boettger encourages members to attend board meetings to stay involved with their utility.

“It's important for the board to know the public's there and that they're concerned, and it's important for the public to be watching the people that make these decisions about their energy,” he said.

HEA’s board will meet again on March 19.

Jamie Diep is a reporter/host for KBBI from Portland, Oregon. They joined KBBI right after getting a degree in music and Anthropology from the University of Oregon. They’ve built a strong passion for public radio through their work with OPB in Portland and the Here I Stand Project in Taipei, Taiwan.Jamie covers everything related to Homer and the Kenai Peninsula, and they’re particularly interested in education and environmental reporting. You can reach them at to send story ideas.