Bill OK’d to deal with power grid issues for populous areas

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska Alaska lawmakers have moved forward with legislation to better align the electric utilities in the state’s most populated regions.

The effort to maximize the efficiency of the interconnected system in the Railbelt, the communities connected by the Alaska Railroad, is a culmination of years of work, The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported Wednesday.

A bill passed out of the special Senate Railbelt Electric System Committee Feb. 26 and testimony on the long-awaited measure was heard in the Senate Finance Committee March 3.

An identical version of the Senate legislation moved from the House Energy Committee to the House Resources Committee Feb. 26.

The Railbelt stretches from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks.

The bills seek to codify the work by electric utilities with direction from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to better integrate the long-term planning of the six utilities and provide a consistent path for renewable power producers to access the regional transmission system.

The bills would require the utilities to form an electric reliability organization that would oversee implementation of system-wide reliability standards and coordinate long-term planning among the utilities.

The legislation also would give the regulatory commission explicit authority to rule on the necessity of large infrastructure projects the utilities may pursue, such as generation plants.

The regulatory commission issued a letter to the Legislature in 2015 that was largely critical of the utilities’ efforts to work together on broader generation and transmission planning, as well as day-to-day power sales that could greatly improve the overall regional electric system efficiency.

The legislation should help facilitate streamlined operations between the utilities and provide an avenue for sharing backup generation, which can be a large cost to utilities, said Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof, the finance committee co-chair.

“To me, this is a long time coming and should have significant benefit for Alaska ratepayers,” von Imhof said.