GVEA Frequently Asked Questions Q&A

New and longtime members alike often have questions about Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA). There is a lot of information to know! While we cannot answer every question in one article, some are asked far more often than others, so we wanted to provide a list of frequently asked questions and answers for our members.

What does it mean to be a cooperative?

GVEA is an electric cooperative. That means we are member owned and operated. If you receive electricity from GVEA, You are a member-owner. Cooperatives around the world operate according to a core set of principles. These principles, along with the cooperative purpose of improving quality of life for their members, make electric cooperatives different from other electric utilities. The 7 principles are:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

What are GVEA’s sources of power?

GVEA owns and operates 8 generation units. In addition, the cooperative has a 16% stake in the Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Project, owns a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) and purchases power from other utilities in Alaska.

  • Zehnder Power Plant, est. 1972. This 41 megawatts (MW) diesel plant is located in Fairbanks and is primarily used as a back-up source of power.
  • Delta Power Plant, est. 1976. This 27 MW diesel plant is essentially a very large generator and is only used as a last resort, as it is very costly to run.
  • North Pole Power Plant, est. 1976. This is a 120 MW diesel plant that runs two 60 MW turbines.
  • North Pole Expansion Power Plant, est. 2006. This 60 MW plant runs an LM 6000 turbine. Naphtha, a pressurized liquid fuel, powers the operation. This plant can quickly start and stop operation, so it is used frequently to help regulate variable sources of power such as wind.
  • Healy plants 1 and 2, established 1967 and 2016. The Healy plants are powers by coal combustion and provide 28 MW (Healy 1) and 60 MW (Healy 2) of power.
  • Eva Creek Wind Farm, established 2012. Eva Creek runs 12 wind turbines with a capacity of nearly 25 MW of power.
  • Solar Farm, est. 2018. The 563 kilowatt (kW) solar farm is located in south Fairbanks.

For more information on GVEA’s sources of power, visit our Sources of Power page.

GVEA Line Crews are
dispatched to restore

What does GVEA do to prevent power outages?

Right of way crews work every season to clear trees that are near electric lines, but we can’t remove the trees that are outside of the right of way. Outages that are caused by trees falling on the lines are almost always caused by trees that are growing outside of the right of way and then lean into the line. This is happening more often now, as we’ve definitely seen an increased growth in trees in recent years, which is attributed to warming average temperatures.

GVEA’s Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) does a fantastic job of preventing smaller outages caused by generation or Alaska Intertie issues. In 2021, BESS responded to 57 events and prevented over 211,000 outages. This is an average of 4.5 prevented outages per meter. The BESS responds to transmission and generation events, but can’t prevent distribution outages where a tree has broken a line, pole, transformer, etc.

How does GVEA restore power when there are a lot of outages?

Once aware of a pending storm, GVEA preemptively prepares by notifying line crews and staff to be ready, coordinating backup support as needed and deploying equipment and materials. As a storm materializes and electric outages increase, many things happen at GVEA, seemingly all at once.

Additional dispatchers and all GVEA line crews mobilize and GVEA’s outage call center is activated to handle member calls and work with dispatchers, line crews and public relations personnel to ensure that current and accurate outage information is communicated to members. Operations personnel continuously assess road conditions, crew locations, the magnitude of the damage and number and location of outages to determine the most effective, efficient and safest way to restore power.

Dispatchers track outages by location and work to ensure GVEA is maintaining generation to transmission lines. Line crews are typically dispatched to restore outages first to damaged transmission lines, then substations, then distribution supply lines (feeders) and finally to open fuses on tap lines. This process enables GVEA to energize as many members as possible in the least amount of time. If a damaged tap line serving only a few members is repaired before the damaged feeder, the members served by the tap line would still be without power because the feeder provides energy to the tap line. The same theory explains why damaged substations are repaired before feeder lines – substations provide power to thousands of members and energize feeder lines, feeder lines provide power to hundreds of members and energize tap lines. Focusing on large outages first, regardless of outage length, is the most effective and efficient way to restore power.

Why can’t we bury the power lines?

This has been looked at in the past as an option, and we frequently reassess considering current conditions. It is very expensive to bury electric lines, enough so that it is not realistic. Additionally, it’s challenging to identify where a line is damaged when it’s underground, especially during the winter. While there would be some benefits to burying lines, so far the cost and the restricted access to the lines does not make it worthwhile. Underground wire in permafrost soils also are very hard to install, harder to maintain, and very subject to damage. Repairing electric cables when the ground is frozen can be very expensive and time consuming. The technology to make underground cables more dependable has improved over the years, so we continue to periodically reassess.

GVEA Line Crews are dispatched to restore outagesIf there is a downed power line, why can’t GVEA find it right away?

Our system does show the general area of an outage, but in most cases the cause cannot be determined exactly. For example, we can tell which line is affected, but not exactly where on that line, in most cases. Sometimes trees fall on a line along a major thoroughfare, which are easy to find, but often they are in harder to reach places which require travel on foot or with ATVs (snow cats and snow machines in winter).

Why doesn’t GVEA clear more of the right of way?

During our right of way clearing season, crews work to clear as much as possible. GVEA only has the legal right to control brush and trees within our easement and it is impossible to identify which trees outside of the right of way will lean when weighed down with heavy snow. Crews do clear hazard trees that lean into the easement from outside of the right of way, but will often need to track down the land owner to gain permission.

What is MyGVEA?

MyGVEA is a new member account management system and mobile app that launched in January 2023. The system provides improved member benefits, ultimately lessens labor upkeep on the system and reduces software licensing costs. Member benefits include greater flexibility for billing options, more online service options, integrated payment channels across all systems, among other great features. The new software is also utility specific and will allow GVEA to continue to offer new benefits and programs to members as the utility industry continues to evolve!

What are Capital Credits?

Because GVEA is a cooperative, owned by its members, it doesn’t technically earn profits. Instead, if revenues exceed the cost of doing business (i.e. expenses), the co-op has earned “margins.” Each year that margins are earned, GVEA members are allocated a portion of the margins, which are in proportion to the amount of electricity each member purchased during that year. These portions are called capital credits.

Capital credit refunds are typically issued or “retired” by the Board of Directors 25 years after they are allocated to members. Find out more at our Capital Credits page.

How it works

1. GVEA tracks how much electricity you use during the year.
2. Each year, after expenses are paid, GVEA calculates the leftover funds (margins).
3. The margins are used to pay down any debt, invest in facilities and projects and are allocated to members as Capital Credits based on how much electricity they used.
4. Depending on financial conditions, GVEA retires (refunds) Capital Credits to members at a future date, currently 25 years.