FAIRBANKS – Golden Valley Electric Association took another step toward building a major wind farm on Monday, when its board voted unanimously to push forward with the Eva Creek project near Healy.
The GVEA board decided to go with the utility’s own proposal, a 24.6 megawatt turbine farm that will be the biggest wind-power project in Alaska. Planners say it could be on line by the end of 2012.
A GVEA analysis estimates the Eva Creek project will save ratepayers
$13.6 million during the next 20 years, assuming oil prices are at $90 per barrel. The board action doesn’t finalize the project, but authorizes GVEA President Brian Newton to move forward on Eva Creek and return next month with a concrete proposal for final approval.
“This seems like a way of adding wind without adversely affecting our members,” said board member Dan Osborne. “That seems like a good way to go, and I think the time is right.”
For now, the Eva Creek endorsement means GVEA won’t pursue partnerships with separate wind farm proposals near Delta Junction and Anchorage.
Representatives from Delta Wind Farm and CIRI’s Fire Island wind farm touted their private projects in presentations on Monday, saying a major expansion of wind power would save ratepayers millions of dollars while connecting GVEA with a clean energy source.
Both projects guaranteed power rates cheaper than the current price of creating electricity with diesel generators. They also lobbied GVEA to back more than one project, since the variability of wind power levels off when turbines are distributed over a large area.
Delta Wind Farm President Mike Craft said the broader use of wind power could buy Fairbanks a break from the scrutiny it faces from the Environmental Protection Agency over poor air quality.
But a consultant hired by GVEA said the utility would struggle to manage the erratic output multiple wind-generated electric projects.
Although savings are projected with 25 megawatts of wind-power capacity in the system, the report said a 50 megawatt load would create inefficiencies and force the utility to cut back on cheaper energy sources like coal, not just expensive diesel fuel. Under those conditions, electric rates would soar.
“Wind does work as a hedge,” said Henri Dale, power systems manager at GVEA. “It does reduce the amount of oil, but we’ve got to remember it doesn’t only displace oil.”
Craft said the GVEA analysis penalized him for using conservative estimates about wind-power output, while the utility glossed over some of the questions about its own plan. Some permits are still needed to make Eva Creek a reality, and he said if the project stumbles, it will kill any GVEA wind farm project in the near future.
Board members acknowledged there’s some uncertainty about the
$90 million project. It depends on many long-term factors that are difficult to predict, including the future price of oil, demands on electric output and the durability of current wind turbine technology.
“What we’re going to try to do is rub the crystal ball,” said board member Tom DeLong.
GVEA President Brian Newton also said the door isn’t entirely closed on adding more projects once GVEA adapts its system to the variability of wind power. The board instructed him to continue exploring other wind options as they emerge.
Newton, however, said the time to add a second wind farm probably isn’t especially near.
“We may be able to manage more wind power in the future – maybe,” Newton said. “But that’s a big if.”
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