Homer Electric Association is studying whether wind power and small-scale hydroelectric energy generation have a local future.
The utility has joined with an Anchorage-based private renewable energy company, Wind Energy Alaska, to study the feasibility of building and operating wind turbines and low-impact hydroelectric projects on the Kenai Peninsula, according to HEA Spokesman Joe Gallagher.
Partnering with Wind Energy Alaska on the studies are Cook Inlet Region Inc. and enXco, an international energy company specializing in wind power.
In a press release this week, HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke said the utility’s overall plan to diversify the cooperative’s generation portfolio included investigating renewable energy resources.
“As most of our members know, the vast majority of our power is currently generated using natural gas,” he said. “It is our goal to reduce the reliance on natural gas and have a variety of energy sources to work with. This should help avoid sharp increases in electric rates due to rising fuel costs.”
So far, Wind Energy has installed two meteorological towers on the southern peninsula and another in the Caribou Hills. Those towers will collect wind data. Gallagher said that normally, about two years’ worth of data is needed to properly evaluate the potential of a wind-generation site.
Two towers were erected last year. The third was erected this year in March.
The wind sites have two promising features, Gallagher said. The sites have steady wind that might be strong enough to make a future generation project worthwhile. Each also is near an existing transmission line, which could reduce the cost of connecting a future wind generation site to the energy grid.
“It is too early in the process to determine if the wind project would be feasible or economical on the peninsula,” Gallagher said.
HEA and Wind Energy also have launched a study of four possible low-impact hydro sites all located in the Moose Pass area near Seward. Areas under consideration include Falls Creek, Grant Creek, Ptarmigan Creek/Lake and Crescent Lake.
The initial work will include engineering, economic, environmental impact and feasibility evaluations, things required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission prior to applying for a license, Gallagher said.
The hydro sites are called “low impact” because they would not require construction of large dams, and may need no dam at all. Energy generation would be accomplished using the streams’ existing drop in elevation.
Little or no impoundments are needed to create a drop in those locations, so the environmental impact of a future generation project would be minimal.
HEA and Wind Energy have already applied for preliminary permits from FERC to begin the evaluation process. Each site has the potential for creating five megawatts of electricity. Work will commence this summer, Gallagher said.
Gallagher said HEA currently has a grant proposal before the Alaska Energy Authority seeking $100,000 in research funding for each of the hydro sites. An announcement by the AEA is expected by the end of the month.
By Hal Spence
19 May 2008
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