Northwest Renewable News

Your Daily Source for Renewable Energy News in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana & Northern California

Montana’s Electric City power faces $23,260 fine by Public Service Commission November 30, 2009

Filed under: Montana,Renewable/Green Energy,Utility Companies — nwrenewablenews @ 3:02 pm
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The city of Great Falls’ electric utility arm, Electric City Power, may be required to cough up a fine of $23,260, the state Public Service Commission ruled last week.

Electric City Power was supposed to obtain renewable energy credits equal to at least 5 percent of its power portfolio for 2008, but failed to so do, the PSC ruled..

The city asked the PSC to grant a waiver, but the state commission refused.

Coleen Balzarini, executive director of Electric City Power, said she expects the City Commission and power board to discuss the matter. But she said the difference between buying the extra renewable energy credits for 2008 or accepting the fine is less than $6,000. The costs of legal fees to appeal the issue will also be an issue, she said.

The city will comply in 2009 after purchasing renewable energy credits and using its sewage treatment plant to generate power, Balzarini said.

One city critic, Travis Kavulla, contended Monday that the PSC moves “bring into question whether the city really possesses the requisite experience and knowledge to run a power company in the 21st century.” Richard Liebert, chairman of Citizens for Clean Energy, said city officials should “keep their eye on the ball.”

For more, read the Tribune online or grab a copy of Tuesday’s print edition.

Great Falls Tribune –


“Community owned” wind company plans 500 megawatts in Mont.

Filed under: Farm/Ranch,Montana,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 2:38 pm
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A Minnesota company has partnered with a Montana developer to pursue more than 500 megawatts of community-owned wind power in central Montana.

National Wind of Minneapolis and Montana Wind Resources of Billings said Monday the project would be built in phases of at least 100-megawatts each over the next five to eight years. Landowners in Judith Basin, Wheatland, Golden Valley and Fergus counties would share in any revenues.

The companies say a separate entity — Judith Highlands Energy LLC — will manage the project, which they describe as the first large, community-owned wind farm in Montana.

The latest entry into Montana’s budding wind power industry comes as corporations including NaturEner, Invenergy and Gaelectric have announced plans to erect more than 1,000 megawatts of wind power turbines over the next several years.

Associated Press


Pullman will be ‘smart grid’ model city November 29, 2009

Avista will lead a smart grid demonstration project that will create the first “smart community” in the Pacific Northwest. Matching funds for the $38 million project are part of a U.S. Department of Energy grant for a larger $178 million regional project which is administered by Battelle.

According to an Avista news release, the company will team up with several regional entities for the Pullman project. Participants include the City of Pullman, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Washington State University, Itron, Hewlett Packard and Spirae. Avista’s portion of the matching funds will be $12.9 million.

According to Avista, the project involves automation of many parts of the electric distribution system using advanced metering, enhanced utility communication and other elements of smart grid technologies. Once the work is completed, customers in the City of Pullman and nearby Albion are expected to experience greater reliability, shorter outage times and access to their own energy use information, allowing them to better manage energy expenses.

“This project will demonstrate the viability of modernizing our electric system with proven technology, and it will prepare us for things to come in the future,” said Scott Morris, Avista chairman, president and CEO.

“I have to especially thank Senator Maria Cantwell for her outstanding leadership in making smart grid a national priority,” Morris added. “I would also like to express my appreciation to the rest of our congressional delegation and to Governor Chris Gregoire for their support on this initiative.”

The project is expected to help move the region and the nation closer to establishing a more efficient and effective electricity infrastructure that is intended to help contain costs, reduce emissions, incorporate more wind power and other types of renewable energy, increase power grid reliability and provide greater flexibility for consumers.

A group of Washington State University researchers will be working with Avista on the project.

As part of the project, WSU along with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories are set to serve as ‘micro-grids,’ locally-based, electricity producing power grids, says Anjan Bose, Regents Professor in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). Serving as a micro-grid, WSU will communicate with Avista to improve electric power efficiency throughout the community.

WSU has its own generating plant, which runs on natural gas and diesel fuel. The generating plant is used primarily to produce steam to heat buildings on campus, but it also includes back-up generators which produce electricity. The campus back-up generators are used to provide power to critical facilities and systems in the event a utility power outage occurs. As part of the smart grid project, WSU will be communicating with Avista for the first time to optimize power generation throughout the community, so that the WSU power-producing facilities might be called upon to provide electricity if the Avista power grid should become unstable or over-loaded.

WSU will also identify loads which could be temporarily shed in response to Avista signals to assist with stabilizing the power grid. The EECS power engineering researchers and students will be involved in research, development, design, testing, and data analysis of the ‘micro-grid’ system.

“The micro-grid provides a local way of controlling electricity production and distribution and should make the whole system more responsive to people’s needs,’’ says Bose. “This is a good demonstration project of one of the ways that we can make the grid smarter.’’

“This Smart Grid project allows WSU to take a important role in addressing our nation’s most critical challenges in energy and the environment,’’ says Candis Claiborn, dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture. “I look forward to a future in which these smart grid innovations being studied here at WSU will lead to cleaner and more efficient energy use for all of us.’’

In addition to Bose, other EECS researchers on the project include Mani Venkatasubramanian, Dave Bakken, and Carl Hauser. Terry Ryan, director of WSU’s energy systems operations, has also taken a leading role on the project. In addition to WSU and Avista, other team members on the Pullman project include Schweitzer Engineering, Itron, Hewlett Packard, and Spirae.

Work is expected to begin by the end of 2009 and should be completed in 2014.



Hailey, ID Considering Wind Energy Ordinance

Filed under: Idaho,Legal/Courts,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 6:36 pm
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Hailey may soon be set to harness the wind for electricity. On Monday, the City Council held a first reading of a proposed ordinance change that would permit installation of small-scale wind-energy systems.

The ordinance would allow for free-standing and rooftop-mounted wind turbines in the Business, Limited Industrial, Airport and SCI-Industrial zones.

Hailey Planner Mariel Platt told the council earlier this month that Hailey’s average wind speeds range up to 14 mph across the town. She said a home turbine in areas where winds average 6-12 mph could cover one-fifth to one-third of average household electrical needs.

Platt addressed concerns that rooftop mounted turbines can cause structural damage to buildings, raised earlier this month by engineer Cal Strope, in a staff report prior to the meeting. She stated that she had found little cause for concern about structural damage on commercial buildings.

“I found the evidence which discredits roof-mounted systems entirely to be minimal,” she wrote.

The ordinance would allow for turbines up to 10 feet above maximum building height levels. One turbine will be allowed per single-ownership lot.

The turbines would be allowed on a conditional-use basis, taking into account wind speed readings on the proposed site as well as alternate sites on a particular lot.

If the turbine is not used or goes out of service for any reason, the city could terminate the conditional-use permit.

Building permits, including the stamp of approval from a licensed structural engineer, would be required before installing a wind turbine.

There will be two more public readings of the wind turbine ordinance before it becomes city law.

Tony Evans, Idaho Mountain Express –


Tax dollars blow away in wind projects

When Gov. Ted Kulongoski vetoed a bill this summer that would have slashed Oregon’s tax subsidies for large wind farms, he insisted the reduction went too far and would jeopardize the growth of Oregon’s green economy.

But during the past eight years, while the state has taken applications for $300 million in tax breaks to subsidize the development of the windiest, most transmission-accessible sites, it has yet to do any substantive analysis of how big a subsidy is necessary — if any — to continue attracting investments.

Wind developers such as Iberdrola  Renewables, the largest developer of wind farms in the state, say the Business Energy Tax Credit is a decisive draw for them as Oregon competes in a 50-state marketplace. That sentiment is echoed by rural counties, which insist the jobs and tax revenue from wind development are the only thing blowing their way these days.

In contrast, the state’s biggest utilities, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power — which can use the credits to reduce customers’ rates — say the BETC has little or no impact on where they build. And critics argue the state is lavishing scarce tax dollars, more needed for schools and other state services, on a maturing industry that already enjoys substantial federal and local subsidies.

The truth is, there are many factors that drive developers’ siting decisions. But an analysis by The Oregonian suggests the tax credits probably come near the bottom of the list.

Mandated demand for renewable power, viable winds, nearby transmission and proximity to markets with high energy prices such as California drive development. While the BETC certainly has accelerated wind power in Oregon, taxpayers are subsidizing many projects that eventually would be built anyway. Consider:

Even at the reduced level the Legislature was contemplating and Kulongoski vetoed — reducing the maximum tax credits for large wind farms from $11 million to $3.5 million per project — Oregon’s BETC would remain one of the most generous wind farm subsidies of its kind in the nation.

Rules requiring renewable energy production in Oregon, Washington and California have collectively created one of the largest mandatory markets for green power in the country — one that will continue to grow for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the bulk of the power generated by subsidized wind projects in Oregon is being shipped out of state.

Property taxes are lower in Washington, which gives the state a competitive advantage for investments save for Oregon’s tax credits, developers say. But property tax exemptions in Oregon help level that playing field, and counties and individual landowners have discretion to negotiate fees to make projects more competitive.

This month, Kulongoski ordered a hurry-up analysis on whether the BETC is necessary for renewable energy projects, specifically wind energy. He wants the feedback before the Legislature meets in February.

Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, a sponsor of the original bill, says she has no problem with the basic strategy of providing incentives.

“But we’re greatly oversubsidizing these things and the benefits are flowing to California ratepayers,” she said. “I don’t think that’s what Oregon taxpayers signed up for.”

Cash on the table

Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit isn’t unique. North Dakota offers a more lucrative subsidy, and North Carolina has a smaller but similar incentive. But among front-running states in the country’s wind boom, Oregon’s is the subsidy to beat.

Texas, for example, offers an exemption from its state franchise tax, though state officials say Lone Star State coffers are forgoing little revenue associated with wind farms. Iowa, another leader, offers a production tax credit for small wind farms but not for large, single-owner projects.

Other wind industry leaders such as New York and California offer little beyond a state renewable mandate and a market where energy prices are high.

Oregon, meanwhile, is laying cash on the table, or a near equivalent. The state ponies up a tax credit worth 50 percent of a project’s cost up to $20 million, meaning a maximum credit of $10 million ($11 million, including cost overruns).

Developers can use it to offset their state tax bill over five years or sell it to another entity to raise up-front financing for a project. A $10 million tax credit is worth $6.7 million in cash under Oregon’s pass-through rules.

That sounds like big money, but the Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimates that a $10 million tax credit, when fully reflected in the price of delivered power from a 100 megawatt wind farm, would reduce the price by less than 2 percent. On a larger project, savings are even smaller.

Ernst & Young, the national tax firm, ranks Oregon fifth out of the 50 states when it comes to the attractiveness of its renewable-energy market for developers. Oregon’s incentives help, said Michael Bernier, author of the Ernst & Young index, because they reduce the cost of a project’s output. A $3.5 million subsidy, as the Legislature envisions, would still be “a very good subsidy,” he said, but any reduction would make the state less attractive.

On the other hand, you can’t look at it solely on the basis of tax credits, he said. “It has to be the whole package.”

25% renewable by 2025
Oregon, Washington and California rank in the top six states for wind power being generated or under construction.

Neither California nor Washington offers a tax credit comparable to Oregon’s BETC. And none of the three states offers the best wind resource in the West.

What they do offer is a predictable, growing market for the product. Mandates in all three states require utilities to buy green power and guarantees them recovery of any prudently incurred costs.

Oregon utilities must serve a quarter of customers’ needs with renewable power by 2025. In Washington, it’s 15 percent by 2020, while California requires 20 percent by 2010, increasing to 33 percent by 2020.

To satisfy those requirements, West Coast utilities will need to come up with about 16,000 megawatts of generation from renewable sources by 2025. That’s a staggering amount of electricity — more than double the output of the entire federal hydroelectric system in the Northwest, which includes 31 dams and one nuclear plant.

Moreover, most renewable power sources produce only intermittently. To meet one megawatt of the renewable mandate in Oregon, utilities must build or buy 3 megawatts of wind capacity.

It’s windier in other western states, notably Wyoming and Montana. And developers suggest those projects will be more competitive in the absence of state tax subsidies.

But capturing distant resources will require expensive transmission expansions. Portland General Electric, for example, estimates the price of wind power imported from Wyoming will be double that of the same electricity generated by less productive turbines in Oregon, once transmission costs are factored in.

“It’s not cost effective at this point when you have to reach that far,” said Jim Eden, a consulting transmission engineer at PGE. What that means, he says, is “make best available use of all close-in resources first, then move outward.”

The Northwest has its own transmission bottlenecks. But the Bonneville Power Administration is pursuing projects to increase capacity, and has enough requests in hand to predict that wind power on its lines will double by 2012 and again by 2016.

Going to California

California already is a dominant driver of the Northwest’s wind market. That’s little surprise, since the heart of the region’s wind resource sits at the on-ramp to the high-voltage highway built to transfer hydropower to power-hungry metro areas of California.

With bigger demand and rates that are 70 percent higher than in Oregon, California utilities already buy nearly half the power generated by Northwest wind farms, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Oregon’s operating wind farms export more than half their output, much of it to California. And the biggest project on the drawing board — the massive Shepherd’s Flat wind farm in Gilliam and Morrow counties — is already pledged to Southern California Edison. SCE officials call the project “the crown jewel in our renewable energy portfolio” because of its size, competitive price and the fact that it required no transmission upgrades.

“Lets face it, the customers are in California,” said Tim McCabe, a former PacifiCorp executive who now heads Oregon’s economic development arm, the Business Development Department. “To be realistic, that’s what (developers) are shooting for.”

There are limits to California’s appetite. Connecting transmission is already congested and California lawmakers have argued over how much of that state’s renewable mandates can be satisfied with imported power or renewable energy credits.

On the other hand, even the 25 percent limit on imported renewables contemplated this year would leave an immense demand for power. And BPA officials say California utilities have been reshuffling their existing capacity to accommodate wind power.

Oregon’s subsidy system makes no distinction on where the power is used, which would likely violate interstate commerce, according to the Oregon Department of Justice. Renewables advocates argue that the question is moot, as Oregon is part of an energy system that spans the western states.

Arlo Corwin, director of western region development at Horizon Wind Energy, says that despite big West Coast demand, the bidding process to supply regional utilities is intensely competitive.

“I fundamentally disagree with the notion that we are in a seller’s market,” he said.

Not apples to apples

One of the chief rationales for large wind subsidies is that Oregon is in head-to-head competition with comparable projects in Washington. Lower property taxes in Washington tip the scales in that direction, developers say, save for the BETC.

“Our calculations have shown that all else being equal, without the BETC, on average, Washington has approximately a $7 million to $8 million competitive advantage over Oregon,” Corwin said.

Iberdrola, the wind developer, used the same number in a half-page summary that was sent to Kulongoski comparing its property tax burdens on two existing projects on either side of the river. The governor, in turn, repeated the figure when vetoing the bill to reduce wind BETCs.

But the property tax advantage isn’t that clear cut.

No two wind projects are strictly comparable. Economics vary based on size, wind strength, constructability or distance from transmission. Property tax bills, even on a comparable, per-megawatt basis, vary widely.

Washington tax authorities assess wind farms based on the income they generate or comparable values, with more limited depreciation than Oregon’s method offers. Tax rates in Klickitat County, home to several Washington wind farms, can vary by as much as 50 percent based on the taxing district in which the turbines are located.

Most of the new wind farms in Oregon, meanwhile, are being built under the state’s strategic investment program, which allows counties to limit their assessment to the first $25 million of a project’s investment. Savings are considerable on projects that cost $200 million to $500 million.

Developers are still required to pay community service fees equal to 25 percent of the abated tax, but county officials also have wide discretion to negotiate development fees to be more competitive.

According to Union County Assessor Linda Hill, the investment program gives developers a great deal.

“They will always complain unless they’re paying nothing,” Hill said. “You wouldn’t see all these wind farms going up if it wasn’t hugely profitable. They continue to complain, but they continue to build.”

To date, Washington and Oregon are generating almost identical amounts of wind power. Oregon has captured more projects since 2007, when the BETC was expanded. But Washington has hardly been dormant, and it, too, has a backlog of projects in development.

“We are somewhat jealous of the BETC, because she’s a mistress we don’t have,” said Tim Stearns, a policy adviser with Washington’s Department of Commerce. “But I don’t think its significantly affected the location of large-scale wind projects in the Northwest.

“If you don’t have a good site and you don’t have a transmission path, you don’t have a project.”

Ted Sickinger, The Oregonian


Ellensburg to join in ‘smart grid’ effort

The city of Ellensburg will more than triple the size of its renewable energy park under a unique grant that taps a team from around the Northwest to build a “smart-grid” demonstration project.

The city will receive about $600,000 from the project, which
was announced this week by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The larger project is called the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project and includes utilities and energy companies from Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming.

Estimated to be a $178 million project, it will be managed by Battelle, which operates Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

Smart grid is the general concept of applying technological innovations to improve power delivery and enable such communications as real-time monitoring of electric use.

“Smart grid really has a lot of definitions,” said Bob Titus, Ellensburg’s energy services director. “Our focus is on distributed energy, which is expected to be much more prevalent in the future.”

Through the city utility company, customers can invest in renewable energy and receive a credit on their power bill. The city started the renewable energy park in 2006 on the west edge of Rotary Park, adjacent to Interstate 90. It is composed of about 60 kilowatts of solar panels.

With the grant, the city will add another 72 kilowatts of solar energy from different types of panel technology and 80 kilowatts worth of small wind systems.

Titus said that by expanding the park, more residents will be able to reap the benefits of solar and wind power.

“We’re making it so individuals can recognize same benefits as if the installation was on their own property,” he said.

Titus hopes to have all the paperwork associated with the project completed this spring so the installations can start in the summer, with a targeted completion date of 2011. Central Washington University will be involved in analyzing data from the project.

Leah Beth Ward, Yakima Herald-Republic


Renewable Energy beginning to energize Alaska

Filed under: Alaska,Energy Efficiency,Geothermal,Solar,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 5:47 pm
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Two spinning turbines dot the sky above Palmer, putting the quaint colony-era town on the forefront of a grass-roots make-your-own energy movement sweeping Alaska.

One of the wind-power turbines — like a streamlined pinwheel or a futuristic windmill — stands above a local chiropractor’s office. The other is a green addition to an elementary school playground.

The turbines are part of a move toward renewable energy in Alaska. Wind turbines dot rural Alaska. Solar arrays power a building in Nome. Tourists soak at Chena Hot Springs Resort, a getaway powered by geothermal energy. And increasingly, homeowners are using energy derived from the sun and wind to heat their homes, keep the refrigerator running and charge their iPhones.

Some involved in this movement are driven by a desire to reduce their impact on the environment. For others, the decision is financial. Using alternative energy means less reliance on diesel fuel to power generators.

State and local officials have been busy writing new rules for how all this can work, especially the backyard wind turbines.

Chiropractor Joseph Hawkins of Palmer is a pioneer. His roughly 50-foot-tall turbine makes more electricity than needed at his business, BIONIC Chiropractic, so he has a contract to sell the extra power to Matanuska Electric Association. He’s one of the first people in the Valley to ever do that.

His turbine towers over BIONIC Chiropractic at 642 S. Alaska St. It went up on Oct. 2. Hawkins said he’s been interested in renewable energy since helping his family install solar power in Utah 25 years ago.

“I’ve been involved or interested in doing anything we can do to be resourceful or protect the environment,” Hawkins said. “It portrays the healthy lifestyle I want to represent as a chiropractor.”

The turbine at his business is a residential-size model made by Skystream. It cost about $22,000 installed.

The turbine whirls frequently in Palmer, where breezes are common. Hawkins said he believes it will pay for itself in five to seven years.

Power generated is used first in the chiropractic office building he built last year. Matanuska Electric buys what’s left. In the six weeks the turbine has been energized, that’s been less than a hundred kilowatts, Hawkins said. The average home uses about 30 kilowatts each day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Hawkins and Lukas Strickland, a friend working with him on alternative energy plans, said they hope to install other types of renewables soon.

“Right now in Alaska people don’t really know what to think yet. This kind of project is really important to get people thinking about what renewable energy is,” Strickland said.



The second Palmer turbine, installed Nov. 6, is a dramatic addition to the Sherrod Elementary School playground. The school’s Alaska-themed playground includes boulders marking Mount McKinley and a partial pipeline. Now, a 51-foot tall Skystream turbine stands about where Fire Island would be on the playground map.

It’s the first wind turbine installed at an Alaska school as part of the national Wind for Schools program. Principal Mark Hoffman said Sherrod is taking part in the U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored program and tapping into wind energy-related curriculum for students. Schools in 26 states, including Alaska, participate.

In most of those states, small wind turbines have been installed, and teachers use data from the turbine as part of their lesson plan for teaching about energy and weather. At Sherrod, the turbine is powering hallway lights. District officials said it’s too early to know how much of the school’s energy bill the turbine might offset.

Sean Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Sherrod, said he’s eager to have a new way to help his students understand a difficult concept like energy.

“It’s really foreign because (energy) is not obvious,” Williams said.

He teaches students that rubbing their palms together is one kind of energy and rolling a ball on the carpet is another. But other concepts are more difficult to teach. Now, with tools like exploded diagrams showing what’s going on inside the turbine and software that can track energy being produced, Williams said he believes his students will learn more.

Charlotte Ray said her third-grade class at Sherrod will focus more on the weather — what makes the turbine spin, and will it spin more tomorrow than it did today?

Ray’s students learn about weather patterns and make predictions, then record data to show what the weather was like over time.

“The goal in education is to interest and challenge them, and to help them get excited about learning,” she said. “Also, it’s cool for the kids to see how we can use where we live — in windy Palmer — as a benefit. It’s so often a detriment.”



Nobody has a wind turbine whirling in their backyard in Anchorage, but the municipality and its power company are working to change that.

Anchorage zoning rules currently don’t permit wind turbines. One of its electric companies, Municipal Light & Power, doesn’t allow small consumers to hook a backyard turbine to the electrical grid and sell power back to the utility.

Jim Posey, general manager of Municipal Light & Power, said the city-owned electrical utility will soon offer “net-metering” contracts to Anchorage residents. The utility is waiting for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska — which oversees public utilities — to finalize its new net-metering rules.

Net metering is a policy that allows people or companies that own small renewable-energy facilities to sell excess power they generate to their local electric company.

Alaska is one of six states lacking net-metering laws. But the Regulatory Commission on Oct. 14 approved net-metering regulations. A commission spokeswoman said the regulations should go to the state attorney general’s office for review this month. Eventually, they’ll go to Gov. Sean Parnell to be enacted.



Hawkins and Sherrod Elementary already have an agreement like that with Matanuska Electric Association. MEA consumers typically buy power for 16 cents per kilowatt. The co-generation rate — what MEA pays small producers — is about 6.2 cents. MEA spokeswoman Lorali Carter said the difference represents the utility’s cost to maintain its transmission lines and other infrastructure.

Posey described a similar set-up in the works at ML&P.

But the new net-metering laws might be in place for months before Anchorage residents can legally hoist a turbine into the air on their property. Residents who ask municipal officials about putting wind generators up now are told to wait, Anchorage physical planning supervisor Tyler Robinson said.

Robinson’s office worked last year to develop land-use rules about installing wind turbines.

The Planning and Zoning Commission passed the rules last fall. But the measure stalled when it reached the Assembly. The Assembly is rewriting city zoning laws and wants to finish them first before tackling new issues, Robinson said. The wind-generation rules may be on hold until mid-2010, he said.

Robinson said he gets frequent calls from city residents interested in installing wind generation on their property. There’s definitely interest.

But Anchorage isn’t an easy place to adopt one rule for all residents. The city wants to make sure wind-turbine rules are made after a vibrant public discussion.

“Some of these smaller applications, whether on residential lots or in business districts, will really challenge the values that people have,” he said.

“I don’t think if we were to just put it out there tomorrow it would be entirely embraced with open arms and everyone would think it’s a great idea. But I think the mayor is generally supportive.”



Wind and other alternative power systems are cropping up all over the state, largely spurred on by abundant sources of funds — federal and state grants for renewable energy and federal tax credits for installed systems — and communities eager to cut their dependence on expensive diesel fuel.

Alternative energy supplier Kirk Garoutte, owner of Susitna Energy, said he talked Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan into granting him permission to install two turbines at his 2507 Fairbanks St. property to help him demonstrate the equipment he sells.

Without net-metering in place, the turbines will only churn wind, not make electricity, but Garoutte said they’ll allow his customers to watch turbines in action.

A residential set-up, installed, costs about $15,000, he said. A Department of Energy program that delivers a 30-percent tax credit for residential renewable energy systems installed by 2016 can help lower upfront costs.

Perryville, an Alaska Peninsula community of 133 people, installed 10 of his turbines, Garoutte said. He believes the turbines will pay for themselves in about 18 months. Others whirl in Nome, Shaktoolik, Chignik, Kipnuk, Fairbanks, Healy and Willow.

Meera Kohler, president of Alaska Village Electrical Cooperative, said her power company for 53 villages has energized 21 turbines since 2003. Four more will be spinning in Chevak before the end of the year, she said.

These are commercial-grade turbines, with an installed cost of nearly $1 million each, plus $1.5 million for a system that lets the turbines be monitored from afar, Kohler said.

AVEC spends about $5 million a year on diesel. The board hopes to shave $1.2 million off that with wind-generated energy, Kohler said.

Kodiak Electric Association in August installed three 1.5 megawatt turbines, each producing enough electricity to power 330 homes.

Darron Scott, Kodiak Electric chief executive, said in an August presentation to the Alaska Power Association that he expects the turbines will save 800,000 gallons of diesel each year.

A 36-turbine wind farm planned for Fire Island is expected to generate about 10 times the electricity from Kodiak’s three-turbine wind farm. Work on Fire Island could begin next year.

“We’re starting to see a lot of momentum pick up with wind around the state,” said Chris Rose, founder of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.



Jerald Brown, president of the Bering Straits Native Corp. of Nome, said the corporation has invested more than $3 million in alternative energy products recently.

Two years ago, Bering Straits installed 93 solar panels on its Nome office building. The corporation also installed solar hot water heaters in two apartment buildings it owns, and partnered with Sitnasuak Native Corp. on Banner Wind LLC, a wind farm with 18 turbines that sells power to Nome Joint Utility.

Brown said the corporation is opening an energy-efficiency store in the corporate office building to sell LED light bulbs, energy-efficient garbage composters and timers to plug vehicles into.

Outside Fairbanks, a century-old resort where tourists flock to watch amazing northern lights displays while soaking in natural hot springs is on the forefront of alternative energy of a different kind.

In 2006, Chena Hot Springs owner Bernie Karl started generating power from geothermal hot water under the resort. This year he unveiled another mobile plant that uses heated waste water, from oil and gas development and other sources.

Out in Southwest Alaska, Naknek Electric Association is using millions in federal money to drill into potential geothermal sources. Its November newsletter describes results so far as “hopeful.”

There’s a lot happening Alaska backyards, too. This summer, 30 homeowners around the state participated in a “solar tour” aimed at taking the mystery out of green building techniques and home renewable energy systems.

In the Valley, some homes on the tour relied on renewable energy by necessity: A house made of straw bales that is beyond the reach of electricity and off-grid cabins near the Talkeetna Mountains that rely mostly on solar power, for example. Others incorporated efficient designs and renewable features for other reasons.

A modern two-story colonial home with a garage and full basement on the tour is heated by sun-warmed water. Homeowners Dave and Karen Jones said they wanted a low-maintenance home with low energy costs that they can enjoy in their retirement.

“We’re not making any concessions,” said Dave Jones. “We’re not tree huggers. We’re normal people. We’re just looking for a more efficient way to do it.”

Phillip St. John, president of the nonprofit Alaska Center for Appropriate Technology, said events like the solar tour show people renewable energy is something anyone can do.

“There’s really people out there doing it. Their neighbors are doing it,” he said. “If you think renewable energy is something for the future, then you’re living in the past.”

Rindi White, Associated Press –