The Anchorage Assembly will consider an ordinance to let its members get directly involved in negotiations to buy wind power to supplement Anchorage’s energy supply.
But if Assembly members pass it, carrying out the law would intrude upon the mayor’s executive power, city attorney Dennis Wheeler says. The Assembly’s own attorney, Julia Tucker, disagrees.
The proposal is prompted by some Assembly members who are impatient with the city’s progress in negotiating with Cook Inlet Region Inc., the local regional Native corporation that is trying to develop a wind turbine farm on Fire Island.
Assembly Chairman Dick Traini and Assemblyman Bill Starr co-sponsored an ordinance to give the Assembly authority to negotiate a power-purchasing agreement if the Assembly finds it necessary. The measure is up for a public hearing and possible vote at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting.
Wheeler issued a written opinion Thursday saying such a law would violate the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
“There are 14 pages of reasons why,” said Wheeler, including a state statute that says executive power in a municipality is vested in its mayor.
Traini’s response: “Dennis works for the mayor. He has a conflict.”
Wheeler said he works for the entire municipality, including the Assembly.
At a work session on the Fire Island project Friday, Assembly attorney Tucker said in some other home rule cities like Anchorage, “many executive functions are done by a city council.” Juneau is one where that’s true, she said.
In addition, a provision of Anchorage’s city charter specifies that the Assembly has the power to oversee operations and management of city utilities, she said.
Tucker said she thinks that provision makes it appropriate for the Assembly to participate in negotiations for wind power. Wheeler said the provision doesn’t override the separation-of-powers doctrine.
There’s a sense of urgency with the wind project because CIRI wants to begin construction this summer. The company has $44 million in federal grant money available, contingent on starting this year. CIRI needs power-purchasing agreements with utilities to make a go of it.
The company has been negotiating with Chugach Electric Association for a while. Chugach can’t take all the wind power that would be generated, though, so CIRI needs at least one more buyer, CIRI officials have said.
The Assembly passed a resolution in February declaring that a power-purchase agreement with the Fire Island Wind Project is in the public interest.
City-owned Municipal Light & Power is more skeptical. ML&P made a power-purchasing offer last week but a CIRI representative characterized it as ridiculously low.
ML&P director Jim Posey said at the time that the ML&P board of directors, which agreed to the terms, is simply protecting customers from higher costs and problems associated with integrating power from an unpredictable source like wind into the power grid.
Mayor Dan Sullivan said the decision should be made on the basis of a business plan, not a political desire to support renewable energy.
Lucinda Mahoney, the city’s chief financial officer, did her own analysis and said there just isn’t enough information on whether the Fire Island wind power is economic.
“Neither CIRI nor ML&P has conducted the detailed technical and economic analyses that would be necessary” to determine the costs of integrating wind power and ML&P, she said in a written report.
Assemblyman Starr said he thought Mahoney’s report wasn’t on point just now. “What’s in front of the Assembly is what our role as an Assembly is,” he said.
“I don’t want to miss the opportunity from a reliable alternative-energy provider. If it means we have to issue a directive – buy a certain amount of energy – I believe we can do that.”
Assemblyman Chris Birch said he thinks it’s inappropriate for the Assembly to participate in negotiations. He said that during 10 years on the Chugach Electric board of directors, he looked at wind projects regularly. “But time and again, it’s more expensive.”
The Assembly meeting starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Loussac Library.
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