FAIRBANKS – Leaders at Golden Valley Electric Association are expected to endorse a major wind-power generation plan on Monday, aligning the Interior utility with what will become the biggest wind farm in Alaska.
Exactly what that project will look like, however, is still undetermined. The GVEA Board will consider three proposals at its meeting – independent projects near Delta Junction and Anchorage, along with its own Eva Creek project outside Healy. A decision on which plan to endorse is expected to follow the presentations.
Since wind farms can have erratic output, GVEA President Brian Newton said he doesn’t expect to recommend more than one of the proposals.
He said GVEA’s relatively small grid won’t be able to function consistently if too much of its power capacity is tied to wind generation.
“We might be able to work toward that, but not right now,” he said.
But the addition of a large wind farm meshes nicely with GVEA’s long-term goals. Newton said any of the projects would allow the utility to surpass its target of having 20 percent of its electric generation from renewable sources by 2014. GVEA gets about 10 of its percent of its capacity from renewables in the form of hydroelectric projects and smaller wind and solar sources.
None of the turbine farms have been built, but all three proposals would be by far the biggest wind-power generators in the state. All are hoping a power-purchase agreement from GVEA will help bring them to life.
Newton said GVEA’s own Eva Creek proposal, which has been explored since 2003, would add as much as 24 megawatts of capacity to the network. A privately run Delta Wind Farm project could contribute 25.6 megawatts of power to the GVEA grid, while CIRI’s Fire Island project could offer as much as 52.8 megawatts of additional capacity. GVEA has a current maximum capacity of 296 megawatts.
While providing a clean source of electricity, GVEA has also pledged that it won’t sign on to a wind-power project that will boost electric rates. Newton said the projects will be evaluated for safety, reliability and cost.
Newton said GVEA isn’t married to its own project, but that it has some built-in advantages. Since it would be owned by GVEA, no profit margin would need to be factored into electric rates. The wind farm would also be centrally located and just 300 feet from existing transmission lines.
Newton said an 80-meter test tower at the Eva Creek site has collected wind data for more than a year, and that those results have exceeded projections for wind output at the site.
But the backers of the Delta Wind Farm and Fire Island projects are hopeful the GVEA board is willing to consider multiple farms. Distributing turbines over a broad geographical area can smooth out the variability that comes with a single farm, they say, since wind is often blowing in one location while another is calm.
Delta Wind Farm commissioned a study to look at how wind power could be integrated into the GVEA system, and it concluded that there’s room for GVEA to take on several projects.
“We would love to see all three of these facilities brought on line, and they’ve all got benefits,” said Josh Craft, the project manager at Delta Wind Farm.
CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said the Anchorage-based Native corporation agrees that several wind farms could enhance the overall project.
“As far as we’re concerned, the more the merrier,” Jager said.
The Delta Wind Farm plan would include 16 turbines at a site outside Delta Junction. The site already houses two turbines funded through a $2 million state grant, which have been feeding the GVEA grid with as much as 1 megawatt of power for more than a year.
In addition to having a track record, Delta Wind Farm touts itself as the only one of the alternatives that is permitted for expansion and ready to proceed immediately.
“The only piece of this puzzle we need now is a customer,” said Mike Craft, the company’s owner.
Josh Craft said the business wants to negotiate a 15-year electric rate at a cost lower than GVEA pays to run diesel generators. Diesel is the most expensive form of electricity for the utility, but it’s also the one that’s shut off first when there are alternatives available.
Jager said CIRI plans to erect as many as 33 turbines on Fire Island, which is located near the Anchorage airport in Cook Inlet. CIRI is nearing a power-purchase agreement with the electric utility in Anchorage, Jager said, and GVEA could spread some of the risks associated with a new project with other big customers.
“The cost of wind-generated power, even with the line loss of shipping it up to Fairbanks, is going to be very attractive compared to some of the prices you’re paying now,” Jager said.
Backers of both the $87 million Fire Island and $45 million Delta Wind Farm projects say that their status as private, for-profit companies have big advantages. Because they fall into that category, they currently qualify for massive federal subsidies that go to renewable energy projects.
GVEA says the nonprofit Eva Creek farm would slash its $93 million estimated costs through a subsidy from the federal clean energy program.
Detailed presentations on each of the projects will be held at the GVEA board meeting on Monday. The public portion of the meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at the GVEA office, 758 Illinois St.
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