GVEA questions state agency's ability to run Healy Plant
Utility files complaint over safety conditions

Fairbanks Daily News Miner
May 13, 1998
By Al Slavin

A Fairbanks utility has called for an investigation into a state agency's ability to "safely operate" a $267 million experimental power plant at Healy.

Golden Valley Electric Association claims problems at the Healy Clean Coal Project have led to unsafe working conditions and increased operating costs at the plant, according to a complaint the utility filed with the Alaska Public Utilities Commission.

GVEA has agreed to take control of the coal-powered electricity plant from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority when the facility becomes commercially operational.

The APUC complaint was spurred by concern that correcting the plant's working conditions will jeopardize employees and increase long term operating costs, an expense that will be passed onto customers. GVEA filed a separate lawsuit against AIDEA in Fairbanks Superior Court last week and asked a judge to determine whether AIDEA has complied with transition guidelines.

AIDEA's attorney, Assistant Attorney General Brian Bjorkquist, said the state corporation has "definite concerns" about safety issues and is willing to work with GVEA to resolve them. Bjorkquist said the project is in compliance and that testing is under way, a final hurdle to GVEA assuming control of the plant.

Dennis McCrohan, AIDEA's manager for the Healy Clean Coal Project, said the testing period started January 1. "We've been burning coal successfully for a couple of months and we have reached full capacity."

McCrohan said the plant has exceeded expectations based on the level of "ease at which the combustors have started up."

The Healy Clean Coal Project uses an innovative coal-burning technology that prevents nitrous oxide from being released into the atmosphere.

The U.S. Energy Department has contributed $117 million to the project. It was part of a push to meet stringent air requirements that the U.S. Environmental Projection Agency is set to implement in the year 2000.

GVEA agreed four years ago to pay AIDEA an undisclosed amount of money for the plant, which was built on GVEA property. The sales cost will be calculated on the total amount of AIDEA money, estimated at $70 million, investigated in the project, but the plant must be operational by January 1, 2000.

Other areas of concern key in on the plant's operational aspects:

" The amount of energy produced from one ton of coal will not be as high as outlined in a 1990 feasibility study.
" The current design of the coal handling system is slow and requires a second shift.
" AIDEA has not undertaken preventive maintenance measures on some equipment, a move that could void warranties.

AIDEA has until the end of the month to respond to the APUC complaint. APUC Executive Director Bob Lohr said it was unusual to receive such complaints from organizations that were working together on a project.

"It's a commission decision whether to investigate or not," Lohr said. "I think the commission would consider both sides in reaching that decision."

Kirk Gibson, a Portland attorney hired by GVEA, outlined the utility's concern in the APUC filing. He wrote that GVEA's electrical system had been compromised once and that employees have been "routinely subjected to potentially dangerous conditions."

Gibson mentioned an April 13 incident. An AIDEA operator supplied power to the Healy Clean Coal Project without first notifying a GVEA dispatcher. That cut the power supply from the Healy substation to the Anchorage-Fairbanks intertie and subsequently shut down the Fort Wainwright Substation.

The action not only jeopardized GVEA equipment but also placed some personnel in "potentially hazardous situations." Gibson states in the complaint.

The GVE lawsuit claims AIDEA has failed to produce an operations manual for plant equipment or to properly train GVEA employees. It also alleges that AIDEA has failed to review its start-up plan.

The utility contends those items must be provided before the construction phase is complete and the testing phase can begin.

Bjorkquist, the assistant attorney general, said AIDEA officials are concerned about safety issues at the plant. He said the agency has asked GVEA to detail every instance so corrections can be made.