Small explosion delays Healy 2 startup

Golden Valley Electric Association customers will see a slight decrease in their monthly bills next month, but well short of what GVEA had hoped to give ratepayers. That’s because the co-op has run into more problems with Healy 2 power plant.

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GVEA's Healy 2 Plant (Photo by Golden Valley Electric Association)
GVEA’s Healy 2 Plant
(Photo by Golden Valley Electric Association)

Golden Valley President and CEO Cory Borgeson said the co-op had hoped by now, Healy 2 would be producing low-cost electricity generated by the cheapest fuel – coal. But he said a small explosion on Nov. 2 forced GVEA to shut down the power plant earlier this month, and that means the average residential customer will see their next monthly bill go down by about 65 cents.

“The fact that we won’t be able to be running this lower-cost coal energy from Healy 2 is going to impact our cost of power,” Borgeson said in an interview this week.

Borgeson said repairing damage caused by the explosion will again delay startup of the coal-fired plant near Healy, this time by up to four months. He says the explosion caused about $1 million in damage to the system that feeds pulverized coal into a combustion chamber. A team of experts brought in by GVEA determined that’s where the blast occurred.

“There was a buildup of this coal dust in an area of the coal-handling system,” Borgeson said. “And, during a process of where we were shutting down the plant, it became oxygen-rich. And a small ‘puff,’ or explosion, inside the coal-handling tubes occurred.”

No one was injured in the explosion. Borgeson did not have an estimate on the cost to repair damage to another part of the power plant that was also damaged by the blast. He expects insurance will pay for most of the damage, which he says was not as extensive as that caused by a much bigger explosion at the plant in March. But he regrets the plant is not yet providing the low-cost electricity that GVEA officials had anticipated.

“Healy unit 2, when it is running and is going, will lower the cost of power for our members,” Borgeson said.

The year’s blasts were the latest in a series of mishaps that have kept Golden Valley from bringing Healy 2 online. GVEA has invested more than $175 million to buy and upgrade the plant since the purchase was finalized in 2013. The 50-megawatt plant was built by state and federal agencies at a cost of more $300 million to demonstrate technology that advocates said would use low-grade coal to generate electricity with less pollution. But it was never able to consistently do that and plagued with problems, so the agencies mothballed it in 2000.

Borgeson said the unusual design of the plant makes it hard for GVEA to solve many of its problems.

“The restart of Healy unit 2 has become a much more difficult, perplexing effort than we had anticipated or hoped for,” Borgeson said.

GVEA management and board of directors talked about Healy 2 on Monday in a closed-to-the-public executive session during the board’s monthly meeting.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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