Officials hope to catch Southeast wind
Energy officials for the State’s leading trade agency say they hope to one day add wind to the energy mix in Southeast Alaska.
This year, officials have erected large meteorological towers in and around Wrangell to record data, with a possible eye toward picking up the seasonal slack at area hydro plants during the winter months. Two 10-meter (almost 33 feet) towers have been erected on the island, and an additional 34-meter (about 112 feet) meteorological tower is in Ketchikan, awaiting permitting approval from local officials, said Rich Stromberg, the wind project manager with the industry trade Alaska Power Association. The tower awaiting installation is a loaner to the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, deployed after SEAPA sought but failed to obtain a grant for funds to study the possibility of wind power.
Using the towers, officials with the APA and the SEAPA will gauge the amount of turbulence at sites meshing with existing energy infrastructure, like roads and power lines. Fans or opponents of the windmill aesthetic will have to wait for several years while the agency and the association gauge results, Strombeg said.
“Right now, it’s so early in the process, it’s really hard to say until we start finding some sites that work,” he said. “There’s probably going to be several years of just reconnaissance, of measuring several different sites and trying to figure out which ones might integrate well with the hydro system that’s already there.”
Wind accounts for a just a tiny fraction of all electricity generated in Alaska, about two percent altogether, Stromberg said.
Many existing wind sites exist in the northern and western parts of the state, according to the APA web site. The wind power generated is also more expensive than that generated by Kodiak’s Terror Lake hydro facility, according to figures from the Kodiak Electrical Association web site. Wind power costs 12 cents per kilowatt hour, or slightly less than twice the 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour cost from the hydro plant, according to the site. At the same time, the cost of wind is less than half the cost of diesel generation (29 cents per kilowatt hour) listed on the site.
Wind power so far this year has generated 18,578 megawatt hours on the island, accounting for 15.9 percent of all energy generated there. The wind farm has also saved island rate payers an estimated 4,644,494 gallons of diesel since the blades started turning in July 2009, according to the Web site.
The best approach for rugged Southeast would be to imitate the Kodiak Island approach, Stromberg said.
“It’s predominantly a storage hydro facility,” he said of Kodiak. “Then you add some wind that allows you to use your dam as, essentially, a battery, so when the wind’s blowing stronger, you slow down the rate at which water’s coming through the penstock at the dam.”
The topography and relatively small amount of electrical usage in Southeast could also prevent the development of large-scale wind farms like those found in Oregon and Washington state, Stromberg said. He estimated wind generation – if first approved by local communities – would be constrained to sites of between 5 and 10 megawatt-hours, or between two and six windmills at a particular site.
While officials gather data, they’ll also keep a close watch on public opinion, Stromberg said.
“One thing I talk with communities about,” he said. “APA doesn’t come in and tell anybody they have to have a wind project. It’s gotta be the community deciding it’s what they want to do.”