Opinion: Electric co-op plans grid-modernization project

Effort will serve as a role model for other microgrids

On Dec. 10 at the Cordova City Center a small but impressive group of specialists, engineers and Ph.D.’s gave a presentation on Cordova Electric Co-op’s Electrical Grid Modernization Project.

Involved in the project and at the meeting were representatives from three national laboratories, five universities and multiple teleconference callers, including one from Manchester, England. Participants also included independent engineers with decades of successful electrical generation experience in extreme conditions.

The purpose of the meeting was to explain an opportunity for Cordova Electric Co-op to become a home to new and developing electrical generation technology. Besides updating Cordova’s aging electrical system into the future, the modernization project would increase power generation by increasing the efficiency of what Cordova already has.

Each invited organization was there to add its core area of expertise to the overall project.  Drawing various aspects of power generation and transmission from multiple leaders will bring about the best efforts of all involved. The Department of Energy and Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office are excited to see this opportunity presented to Cordova. It is anticipated that lessons learned and the benefits gained by Cordova’s power industry will be shared and exported to other electrical utility and industry groups throughout Alaska and the national grid.

Cordova’s power situation is different from many electrical companies in the Lower 48. Most of those co-ops buy electricity from a supplier. The co-op is then responsible for the distribution and sale of this power to their local consumer. The situation in Cordova is different.

Due to its isolation, Cordova is 100 percent sufficient in electrical energy. All aspects of power generation, transmission, monitoring and sales are handled by a single entity – Cordova Electric Co-op. Four decades ago, Cordova made the decision to convert to underground power lines.

These lines have been successful in delivering reliable power to Cordova throughout the inclement weather we have, including the Snowpocalypse of 2011-12 when Cordova did not experience a single outage through nearly 30 feet of snowfall.

An aggressive program is also in place to utilize more renewable energy and wean Cordova off of diesel for power generation through automation and modern technologies. Yet even this system is aging and many aspects are in need of replacement and updating. The modernization project is designed to take CEC’s power generation into the future as a model for other microgrids and the national grid.

Further information on this project can be obtained from the CEC office.

David Little lives in Cordova and serves on the board of the Cordova Electric Cooperative