Matanuska Electric Association plans to build a new power generation facility near Eklutna. The plan calls for a gas fired power plant which could generate more than 170 Megawatts of electricity for the Matanuska Valley. And MEA has taken the first step.
Matanuska Electric Association’s board has approved, in private in February and in public in March, a contract for engine generator units, awarding one hundred million dollars to Wartsila, a Finnish manufacturer, to supply generating equipment for MEA’s planned power plant in Eklutna. Joe Griffiths is MEA’s general manager.
“These are dual fueled natural gas primary fuel engines. They start the combustion process with diesel fuel – small amount – and then the natural gas provides the rest of the power stroke. They are reciprocating engines, they weigh about 350 tons apiece. So they are big units, and there’ll be ten of them.”
Griffiths says the engines are the initial step in moving toward MEA’s first power generation facility. At present, MEA buys it’s power from Chugach Electric, and operates as a transmission provider only. But MEA’s contract with Chugach expires at the end of 2014, so an alternative needs to be found.
The dual-fuel generating sets will provide 171 megawatts of power to the railbelt transmission system and to MEA’s 4000 miles of transmission and distribution lines. Griffiths says the generators will be operated primarily on natural gas, but diesel will be a backup fuel,
“And I’m also working the propane option with them. If we can figure out how to burn propane in “em, we’ll have a supply of propane nearby as well. “
The gas will be provided through Enstar’s 20″ pipeline that runs along the West side of Knik Arm
“The whole supply for the Mat Su Valley, the Beluga power plant the coming Eklutna power plant and the ML&P power plant in North Anchorage comes around the Knik Arm. Most people don’t realize that.. in a relatively long 20 inch gas pipe. We have to get the gas from where it is into that pipe, and that was part of an ARCTEC project.”
ARCTECH. That’s the Alaska Railbelt Electric Cooperative Transmission and Generation Company an entity established in 2011 aimed at expanding and improving the Railbelt transmission of electric power. Griffiths is its CEO
“Today we are attempting to work together to improve the whole Railbelt delivery system, particularly the transmission. And that’s very appropriate with the changes coming in the Railbelt in the generation package. “
Griffiths says ARCTEC expected to play a critical role in the Susitna Watana Dam project. The dam, if it is ever constructed, is expected to power the Railbelt for the next hundred years. So why build a small plant in Eklutna? MEA spokesperson Cheryl Heinz says right now, MEA’s energy is coming from fifty year old engines at Beluga. Inefficient engines. She says using the new technology could result in cost savings of 30 percent to MEA, so that the expense of the new generators won’t be passed on to MEA customers.