The First Power Plant
The Aurora Energy power plant has deep roots in Fairbanks history. The original facility, which has been expanded and modernized over the decades, was built in 1951 by the City of Fairbanks.
The 1950s was a period of enormous growth in Fairbanks, much of it fueled by the military expansion in Alaska during the Cold War. The city’s new power plant, located on the south bank of the Chena River, was designed to respond to the rising demand for power in the area.
The original plant consisted of three boilers (Chena Units 1, 2, and 3), three turbine generators producing electric power, and a distribution system that provided steam heat for buildings in downtown Fairbanks. Since its inception, the plant was designed as a “cogeneration” or “combined heat and power” (CHP) facility that simultaneously produces electric power and steam for district heating.
In 1970, a major expansion of the plant was completed, with the addition of the Chena 5 boiler unit and turbine. This almost tripled the facility’s power generation capacity.
In 1983, a new hot water district heat system was constructed to serve an area on the west side of downtown Fairbanks. This expansion connected major buildings such as Lathrop High School, Ryan Middle School, and the Noel Wien Public Library.
The Start Of Aurora Energy
Aurora Energy LLC purchased the power plant in 1998 from the Fairbanks Municipal Utilities System and has operated it ever since. The electricity produced by the plant is sold on a wholesale basis to Golden Valley Electric Association, while Aurora Energy operates the district heating system as an independent utility.
In 1999, another expansion of the district heat system brought service to an area on the east side of downtown. Well-known landmarks such as the Westmark Hotel and the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center are connected to this part of the system.
In 2006, the district heat network grew further with the addition of the industrial area on the north bank of the Chena River. Customers served here include several facilities belonging to the Alaska Railroad and the Nutrition Services Center for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.
Another improvement to the plant, also completed in 2006, was the installation of a full-stream baghouse. This clean coal technology consists of a series of fabric filters that successfully eliminates greater than 99 percent of particulate emissions.
The Aurora Energy district heat system has gradually added customers over the years and currently serves 210 homes, businesses, churches, and government offices. The facility continues to be modernized and will play a vital role in meeting the energy needs of Fairbanks for decades to come.