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Alaska utilities agree to coordinate reliability needs

After years of off-and-on discussions, six Alaska utilities signed a memorandum of understanding committing themselves to establishing a reliability organization to better coordinate the management of the state's interconnected electric grid.

Alaska regulators in 2015 directed the utilities serving the state's Railbelt region, which extends from Fairbanks to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, to come up with an approach to work together more effectively. One idea raised in late 2015 was for a jointly owned transmission entity, or transco. Before that, the utilities had considered a power pool or independent system operator model. Earlier this year, several of the companies applied to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to establish the transco, but they withdrew the application in June. (Docket No. U-19-009)

On Dec. 19, the six companies — Anchorage Municipal Light & Power Inc., Chugach Electric Association Inc., Golden Valley Electric Association Inc., Homer Electric Association Inc., Matanuska Electric Association Inc. and city of Seward electric system — said in a joint statement that they signed a memorandum of understanding, filed the next day with the regulatory agency, pledging to form an independent Regional Reliability Council by Dec. 1, 2020. The council will adopt, administer and enforce reliability standards; develop and oversee open-access and interconnection protocols; develop a Railbelt electric systemwide generation and transmission planning process; and perform a cost-benefit analysis to find the most cost-effective single system dispatch for the system.

"The goal is to work better together on behalf of ratepayers to improve reliability, enhance cybersecurity and have long-term planning within the Railbelt," Chugach CEO Lee Thibert said in the statement. Chugach and the city-owned Anchorage utility are in the middle of a merger expected to conclude in February 2020.

"The agreement represents an opportunity to work together in new ways to ensure our interconnected electric system can meet the evolving needs of the region's members, businesses and communities," Matanuska CEO Tony Izzo said.

The council's board will consist of 12 members: one from each utility, one from the Alaska Energy Authority, one from a consumer group, two from independent power producers and two unaffiliated members. The board's CEO will serve as chairperson but will only vote if a tiebreaker is needed. A seven-member implementation committee, including one member from each utility, is to be formed by April.