Matanuska Electric becomes self-generating with 171-MW gas plant

With the commissioning of the 171-MW gas-fueled Eklutna Generation Station, Matanuska Electric Association, an electric cooperative in Alaska, has become a self-generating utility.

MEA now produces all the power to meet its full member demand and required reserves with the help of energy from local and statewide hydropower projects, the cooperative said in a May 6 news release.

Matanuska Electric had been relying on an all-requirements contract with the Chugach Electric Association. Chugach will continue to provide MEA with power and gas dispatch services for the next year.

This is an important day for our cooperative and the entire Railbelt,’ said MEA General Manager Joe Griffith. “Less than two years ago, we broke ground on this project. I am proud of our team and project partners who made it all happen within a few months of our optimistic timeline and 10% of our project budget. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

While all 10 of the 17.1 MW engines have been commercially available since March, due to the terms of an interim sales agreement, Chugach Electric Association was only purchasing the output of 4 of those engines.  MEA’s Power Sales Agreement with Chugach Electric Association ended April 30th at 11:59pm.  Plant operators report the switch was seamless and uneventful.

MEA’s 10 smaller engines allow the utility to more efficiently follow the service area’s primarily residential load and bring a unique efficient load following capability to the Railbelt.  The plant will provide electricity to MEA’s members 30% more efficiently than the machines previously serving the cooperative, providing a significant reduction in fuel consumption and related costs.

The new plant is now serving homes and businesses from Eagle River to the South Denali Princess Lodge, according to the MEA website.

The new Eklutna facility is powered by Cook Inlet natural gas delivered by Hilcorp, the third-largest, privately held petroleum exploration and production company in the United States.

Each of the low-emission Wärtsilä engines at EGS will operate primarily on natural gas. However, in case of interruption to the gas supply, advanced dual-fuel technology enables the engines to smoothly switch to diesel.

The cooperative broke ground on the project in June 2012 and full construction began in March 2013. About 40% of the engines came online in January of this year and then on May 1, MEA became self-generating.

The new power plant provided nearly 300 jobs at peak construction. The power plant also has 28 permanent positions. The plant will also provide MEA would more ability to integrate wind and other renewable energy forms.

Matanuska Electric Association, Inc., is Alaska’s oldest and second-largest electric cooperative. It is member-owned. Today, MEA serves over 58,000 customers through more than 4,000 miles of power lines throughout the Mat-Su and Eagle River/Chugiak areas.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.