Nestled in massive utility sale, $15M for substance abuse treatment

Photo courtesy of ML&P.

The Anchorage Assembly took an important step Wednesday night, moving the sale of a municipal electric utility another step closer to reality.

It passed with more of a whimper than a bang.

“That item passes 11 to zero,” announced Assembly Chair Felix Rivera after the unanimous approval vote following a little more than an hour of discussion at a special meeting called to handle the latest ordinance.

The measure finalizes a number of technical elements in the sale of Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric Association, a massive merger that Anchorage voters approved on last April’s ballot. The acquisition brings two of the largest Railbelt utilities under one company, and is expected to lower energy costs for rate payers going forward. It also brings roughly $999 million in cash to the municipality, a chunk of which will go towards paying off ML&P’s debt.

Another $36 million will be set aside for rate-relief for ML&P’s legacy customers to offset energy bills. And one unexpected provision will put $15 million toward substance abuse treatment. That measure is framed as a community benefit from the sale. The funds will go towards a new entity named the Alaska Center for Treatment in public documents, though according to the mayor’s administration, the concept will need to be refined going forward.

“This is by no means the end of the public process around that idea,” Municipal Attorney Rebecca Windt Pearson told the Assembly. “The agreement here is simply that we have said $15 million dollars will go toward this idea, this project, or else it will become an offset to payments under this deal after five years.”

Representatives from different Railbelt utility companies spoke in favor of the deal. The sale is could be finalized by June of 2020.