Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Data towers catching the breeze


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Dwight Yancey, Clay Hammer, Mark Armstrong and Andrew Scambler raise a 33-foot data-collection tower overlooking the Back Channel, just across from Mill Creek. Topped with an anemometer, the device will measure wind conditions as part of a statewide energy feasibility study.

A crew with Wrangell Municipal Light and Power re-sited one of its two meteorological data-collection towers last week. The tower was moved south from a point overlooking Muskeg Meadows to the end of Spur Road across from Mill Creek.

The goal of the towers is to identify areas suitable for constructing a wind turbine. But after observing data for the past year, it was determined the tower's location wasn't getting the consistent airflow needed for power generation.

"We were kind of hopeful that that would have panned out a little better," explained Wrangell electrical superintendent Clay Hammer.

The tower is a simple set of aluminum poles, held in place by guide lines. At the top is an anemometer, which measures the speed of air flow and wind direction. Information is stored on an SD card, which is checked monthly. The device also collects temperature and solar observations, and the data are scrutinized for wind consistency and turbulence levels.

On Sept. 3 a crew hoofed it up the steep hillside and dismantled the tower.

"It took some serious legwork to get where it was at and get it hauled down again," said Hammer. Loading its components into trucks, the crew then conveyed and re-erected the tower further south at a site closer to the roadside. It was up after a short afternoon's work, and Hammer said signage will be posted letting people know what the project is.

A few game cameras will also be put up along the road to help ensure the tower remains unmolested. A protective barrier was erected at the base of the second tower, near Salamander Creek to prevent interference from local wildlife.

The two 10-meter-tall structures are part of a several year wind feasibility study being conducted by Alaska Energy Authority (AEA). AEA funds the towers, which can range from 10 to 34 meters in height, and distributes them to local agencies for set-up. Data is then relayed to AEA researchers for interpretation.

"They're just trying to identify some key areas around the island which are suitable to wind generation," Hammer explained.

The statewide study is funded by the state Renewable Energy Fund, which was set up by the Alaska Legislature in 2008 to help communities reduce and stabilize energy costs. The fund's programs seek to benefit communities by providing cost-effective, renewable energy sources for heat and power and by creating jobs. In 2012, the fund was extended 10 years to continue through 2022.

While AEA has not engaged in any wind-energy projects in Southeast, its wind and solar project manager Rich Stromberg explained that the region has potential. So far, hydropower generation has been the main focus for energy development, which Stromberg said would be well-complimented by the output from wind turbines.

"They balance out really well," he said.

Southeast Alaska Power Agency has shown interest in the technology, and AEA has provided it with a larger meteorological tower to test for feasibility. SEAPA executive Trey Acteson explained the tower is currently in storage, but within the next few weeks staff will conduct site visits to find a place to install it. One potential location would be on the south end of Mitkof Island, near existing transmission lines.


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