MEA GM excited about electricity

Saturday, October 28, 2017 - 11:24
  • Matanuska Electric Association general manager Tony Izzo gives a presentation to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at the Eagle River Ale House in Eagle River, Alaska. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

Tony Izzo is charged up about electricity.

The Matanuska Electric Association general manager gave an up-beat presentation on the state of the local electrical cooperative, which serves a 10,000 square mile area covering Chugiak-Eagle River and the Mat-Su Valley.

“We’ve made a bunch of member services improvements over the years,” he told the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce during its bi-weekly luncheon Oct. 4 at the Eagle River Ale House.

From reducing call wait times by 68 percent to using fiber optics to more quickly locate outages to 24/7 staffing of the cooperative’s Facebook page, Izzo said MEA is making an effort to be hyper-responsive to its 50,000 members.

“Somebody is always there,” he said.

Izzo’s presentation highlighted a number of improvements made by the cooperative in the past several years, most notably the change to becoming a “vertically integrated” monopoly when the Eklutna gas-fired power plant came on line in 2015.

“We produce the power, transmit the power and distribute the power to all of you,” he said.

The power plant provides about 89 percent of the utility’s electricity, with the remainder coming from hydroelectric sources.

MEA rates have risen 16 percent since 2014, Izzo said, due to factors ranging from high fuel costs, a cold winter and building the power plant. But Izzo said members could soon be receiving checks in the mail.

“A board priority is to restore capital credits,” by next year, he said.

The last time MEA paid capital credits — money paid back to members at year’s end — was in 2014.

Izzo said there’s more good news for members coming in 2018, when a new natural gas contract will come online, reducing MEA’s fuel costs by 7 to 8 percent. He also said the cooperative is working to save money by cutting positions that aren’t needed and working with other Alaska utilities to increase efficiencies across the state. Pooling resources, he said, should help save MEA as much as $3 million per year.

“We all save money,” he said.

And in what’s likely welcome news for many chainsaw-weary homeowners, Izzo said the cooperative’s ongoing line-clearing project should be complete by 2019. Over the past 5 or 6 years, he said crews have been systematically clearing trees near power lines — which cause about a third of all outages. That work — which hasn’t always been appreciated by neighbors — is nearly complete, which means crews will be focusing on smaller clearing projects rather than the large-scale tree cutting residents have noticed.

“You won’t see that big, draconian, massive difference that you have now,” he said.

To learn more about the cooperative, visit mea.coop.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com or call (907) 205-0082.

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