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Renewable Energy beginning to energize Alaska November 29, 2009

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 –


Governor turns back on renewable energy in AK February 24, 2009

Filed under: Alaska,Renewable/Green Energy — nwrenewablenews @ 1:06 pm
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Gov. Sarah Palin has trimmed back her support for renewable energy in the face of declining oil revenues, but the Legislature is still pushing forward with last year’s proposed projects.

Palin last week submitted a revised budget for next year, cutting back a proposed $50 million in renewable projects to $25 million. That comes just a month after she’d called on the state to make an aggressive push for renewables that would bring the state to getting half its power from renewables by 2025

Palin budget director Karen Rehfeld said the governor was still committed to renewable energy, but with next year’s budget likely to have a significant deficit at estimated oil prices, it wasn’t a good idea to take money out of savings for new spending now.

“We want to do everything we can to extend the life of our savings,” she said.

Still, recommending $25 million in the budget means the state won’t be entirely abandoning the renewables push the state began with gusto last year.

“With the $25 million proposed, which the Legislature will have to approve, that will allow the effort to continue,” Rehfeld said.

In the Legislature, however, there are differences of opinion on spending for renewables.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, represents a region suffering from high energy projects and has cautioned against decreasing support just because fuel prices in cities are down now.

He has an ally in some urban lawmakers, including Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

“I want to see renewable energy throughout Alaska,” she said. “I think it is the way out of our continuing energy crisis.”

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, supported Palin’s action.

Last year the Legislature created the Renewable Energy Fund, and started it off with $50 million. During the summer, as energy prices in rural communities rose while oil revenues flowed into the state treasury, the Legislature added another $50 million.

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee just last week just gave final approval to spend $94.8 million on 77 projects around the state. Doogan, a member of that committee, voted against the approval, which passed 8-2.

Doogan said he wasn’t opposed to renewables, but questioned whether those were the best projects in the state and whether state officials would be able to adequately monitor even those projects, without adding more this year.

“They’ve got plenty to do without giving them another $50 million worth of projects next year,” he said.

It was just last month that Palin publicly offered continued support for building more renewable energy projects.

“While lower crude oil prices are reducing the costs of energy today, we must remain committed to achieving energy security for our future well-being,” she said, while announcing the state’s new energy plan and the 50 percent renewables goal.

During U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s visit to Juneau last week, the potential Palin rival said she remained committed to renewables.

“The leader that we have been in this nation as a supplier of energy for 30 years, we’ve got to be that same leader when it comes to renewables,” she said.

She suggested in her address to the Alaska Legislature that Juneau should even find source of renewable energy to use as its emergency backup when its hydroelectric power isn’t available.

“For crying out loud, in the capital of our state, the power goes down and turn on the diesel generators,” she said. “We’ve got to be doing better.”


Hydrokinetic river generator gives power to remote villages in AK February 5, 2009

481-42069076871originalstandaloneprod_affiliate71A technology almost as simple as a Yukon River fishwheel could one day power the laptop computers and microwave ovens of Alaska’s river people. In Ruby it’s beginning to do just that.

Last summer, the Western Alaska village on the banks of the Yukon became the first community in America to tap into the power of an in-stream hydrokinetic generator, a submersible turbine that looks a bit like a tipped-over fish wheel.

In-stream power also gets called “low-impact hydro” and “hydro without the dam.” By any name, it may be an idea whose time has finally come.

A 100-kilowatt turbine about 20 times larger than Ruby’s is scheduled to be installed later this year in the Upper Yukon River village of Eagle, where it’s expected to power all the homes in town from breakup to freezeup.

That could eventually provide a fuel-free alternative to Eagle’s present practice of burning about 80,000 gallons of increasingly costly diesel fuel each year to generate electricity.

In-stream hydro is no longer just a quirky, renewable energy concept, Ruby project director Brian Hirsch said Tuesday, displaying a slide-show image of four generators now in production during a workshop on the subject at the 2009 Alaska Forum on the Environment under way in Anchorage.

“Every one of these devices that you see up there are not just an artist’s rendering anymore but actually a device that is made of steel and now producing electricity,” Hirsch said.

Admittedly not a whole lot so far. Unlike increasingly popular wind farms and geothermal power plants, in-stream hydro is still a costly technology in its infancy, with lots of unanswered questions. Especially in Alaska.


Can the turbines floating on the surface of the Yukon withstand bombardment by the huge logs that regularly drift downstream? Will the Yukon’s notoriously silty water damage their intricate mechanism? Or might the turbines cause problems of their own, disrupting river navigation or posing a threat to migrating fish?

The Ruby generator, a mere 5-kilowatt turbine capable of powering only two households, was an experiment. After one month of operation last summer, Hirsch can report that it works.

“But there’s a lot to improve,” he said.

On the plus side, in-stream hydro is a simple, highly portable technology that can be up and running in a matter of weeks and might be ideal for remote riverbank communities.

The Ruby project, sponsored by the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (Hirsch serves as the council’s energy program manager), was partly assembled in Fairbanks, then barged downstream from Nenana. Its price tag was $65,000.

That included the cost of the turbine itself, manufactured by a Canadian firm, as well as the cost of a pontoon boat to float it, gear to anchor it, a debris boom to protect it and underwater transmission cables to connect the generator to Ruby’s power grid.

Ruby was selected as a test case partly because diesel-generated power there is so expensive, and partly because its residents enthusiastically supported the project, Hirsch said. Ruby also satisfied some technical requirements.

In-stream turbines ideally get placed in the part of a river where the current is strongest. That’s usually on the surface near the middle, where the river is deepest. But placing it in the middle of a river increases the length of the transmission lines required and possibly creates navigational hazards. Ruby proved ideal because the fastest, deepest current was close to shore.

To protect the turbine from floating driftwood, the construction team fashioned a simple A-frame prow out of two logs. That was only halfway successful, Hirsch said. It diverted everything that floated on the surface. But some debris on the Yukon floats beneath the surface, and it accumulated on the vessel’s anchor chain. Eventually all the snagged flotsam began to shield the turbine from the current and lowered its electrical output.

“It’s a challenge, and it’s something we’re working on,” Hirsch said.

The larger in-stream hydro turbine waiting to be installed in Eagle this summer may offer an answer to that problem. It’ll come equipped with a heavy, metal sieve-like prow that will extend deep into the river, deflecting subsurface debris.

Underwritten by a $1.6 million grant from the Denali Commission, the Eagle project was proposed and advanced by the Alaska Power & Telephone Co., a Washington-state- based utility that provides Eagle residents with electricity. The company chipped in some seed money of its own.

But it’s still “really expensive” per kilowatt to put a hydrokinetic generator in the water when you compare the new technology with more mass-produced renewables like wind power, said Benjamin Beste, an AP&T engineer who also addressed the forum.

Even so, Beste thinks in-stream hydro is a viable summer source of power for Eagle, as well as other small, isolated river communities in Alaska. He doesn’t think the turbines could avoid damage in winter or spring, when break-up occurs. Like Ruby, the in-stream hydro operators in Eagle plan to remove their turbines from the river each fall.

And its effect on migrating salmon? “The fishery impact is not really well known yet,” Beste said.

What is known is that adult salmon that migrate upstream favor the slowest current in the river, rather than the fastest, where in-stream turbines are typically placed, said Gwen Holdman, director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

So adult salmon might be OK, as well as the fishing vessels that pursue them. But juvenile salmon migrating downstream to sea as smolts prefer the faster current to expedite their journey, and they represent a potential concern, Holdman said.

The university’s energy center plans to study such issues if and when a 50-kilowatt in-stream generator is installed this summer as planned in the Tanana River at Nenana.

And Ruby might receive another turbine — a 25-kilowatt generator large enough to satisfy about half the village’s summer energy needs — if a renewable energy appropriation previously approved by the Alaska Legislature survives the current session.

By GEORGE BRYSON, The Anchorage Daily News


Cook Island Wind Farm could be Alaska’s first January 27, 2009

Filed under: Alaska,Renewable Energy Projects,Wind — nwrenewablenews @ 6:28 pm
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Construction crews should be busy on Fire Island near the western tip of Anchorage this summer, and the state’s first major wind farm could be up and running there late next year.

So say officials with Cook Inlet Region Inc., the Native corporation that plans to develop land it owns on the mostly barren isle into a wind-driven source of power for thousands of Railbelt households.

“We’re moving forward with the project,” CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said last week.

Significant hurdles still remain, including determining which electric companies will buy the power and approval of all permits, Jager said.

“Of course any of this can be thrown sideways by about a thousand different things. But our anticipation is that there aren’t any show stoppers … and there will be power coming off the island late next year — in 2010.”

The announcement came as the Army Corps of Engineers last week launched a month-long public review of the proposal filed by Wind Energy Alaska, a business owned by CIRI and enXco Inc., a U.S. company that develops and runs wind energy projects.

The plan calls for erecting 20 wind turbines, each capable of generating 1.5 megawatts of power. A three-mile-long cable would carry the electricity to Point Campbell on the mainland and into the existing power grid that runs from Homer to Fairbanks.

Earlier versions of the project — first explored about 10 years ago by one of its potential customers, the Chugach Electric Association — called for 33 wind turbines and up to 100 mw of power.

But the towering 3-mw wind turbines required to do so would be less efficient in Anchorage’s cold temperatures and sometimes moderate winds than the smaller 1.5-mw turbines, Jager said. That trimmed the project down to a 50-mw wind farm.

And its developers decided to cut the proposal to 20 turbines and 30 megawatts to satisfy concerns raised last year by the Federal Aviation Administration, which maintains an aircraft navigation signal on the island.


The wind power will supply a small fraction of the overall electricity consumed along the Railbelt, where utilities primarily rely on power generated by gas, hydro and fuel oil. The American Wind Energy Association says 30 megawatts of wind power equals the annual electricity needs of about 9,000 households.

Last year the Alaska Legislature appropriated $25 million to construct the seabed transmission line to carry that power into the electricity grid. But before the cable can be laid, the developers will need to get at least a few of the utilities involved to sign power-purchase agreements.

Anchorage Municipal Light & Power, Homer Electric and Golden Valley in Fairbanks have each expressed interest in the power, and Chugach has said it’s willing to transport it to the grid, Jager said.

Chugach is also a prospective buyer of Fire Island wind power, Chugach spokesman Phil Steyer said Friday. The company is studying how the fluctuating power from a wind farm can be integrated into the Railbelt grid without causing load problems.

The utilities are also waiting for Wind Energy Alaska to tell them exactly how much the electricity will cost per kilowatt, Steyer said.

That’s a number that’s partly dependent on construction bids that are just now forthcoming, Jager said.

In the short run, the wind power will probably be more expensive than electricity generated from natural gas, since its expense is all upfront in the cost of building the farm, he said. But in the long-run, wind power costs are stable, since its fuel source is free, whereas the cost of gas-fired electricity may well continue to climb.

“That makes wind more attractive, because while the price may be slightly higher now, you have rate certainty for the next 15 or 20 years,” Jager said.


The project will also have to satisfy concerns about its effect on the environment. Wind farms can kill birds. But the newer, larger turbines pose less of a threat, because the blades move more slowly, Jager said.

Audubon Alaska senior scientist John Schoen said his organization hasn’t yet taken a position on the Fire Island wind farm.

“In general we support wind energy,” Schoen said. “But we still need to do our homework. … We might have questions about the siting.”

Specifics on the precise placement of the turbines, as well as the make and model, haven’t yet been decided, Jager said. But enXco engineers are presently favoring a 1.5-mw wind turbine manufactured by the General Electric Co. that they have in stock.

The G.E. turbine has a flexible tower height with a hub that can vary between 215 feet and 265 feet — taller than a 20-story building — and a three-blade rotor that would whirl around a circle 252 feet in diameter.

The Army Corps of Engineers, meanwhile, will focus its own attention on the effects the project might have on the marine environment, including both the seabed transmission line and the impact that barge traffic carrying workers and materials may have on the intertidal zone. The Corps is accepting public comments on the project through Feb. 19.


$100M in Renewable Energy Projects Under Final Review in Alaska November 17, 2008

Filed under: Alaska,Renewable Energy Projects — nwrenewablenews @ 3:17 am
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State officials are in the final stages of reviewing renewable energy projects eligible for $100 million in state funding and expect to make final recommendations to a legislative committee Dec. 7, state energy director Steve Haagenson told a state energy task force Nov. 10.

House Bill 162, passed by the Legislature in the 2008 session, set up a $250 million state renewable energy grant program, with the current $100 million funding as the first year increment, and requires the audit committee to approve the first round of renewable energy projects. Subsequent rounds of funding must be approved by the entire Legislature.