FAIRBANKS – After years of study, debate and anticipation, Golden Valley Electric Association is officially in the wind power business.
The GVEA board voted unanimously Monday to approve the $90 million Eva Creek project, a 24.6 megawatt turbine farm planned near Healy. With an planned launch date of September 2012, the utility-owned project will be the biggest wind-power source in Alaska.
“I have no question we’re doing the right thing,” said board chairman Bill Nordmark. “This is going to be a good project.”
GVEA has eyed a renewable source of wind energy for years, using much of the past decade to collect wind data at Eva Creek to see if it would be a suitable location. The turbines are engineered specifically for cold-weather conditions found in Interior Alaska, said Mike Wright, the GVEA vice president of transmission and distribution.
But even with board approval, Eva Creek isn’t quite a done deal.
GVEA needs to obtain a permit to fill in a wetlands area at the project site, and satisfy requirements that it won’t harm bird life in the area, in particular two golden eagles nested a few miles away. Project Manager Greg Wyman said he doesn’t anticipate either of the permit issues causing problems.
Getting clearance from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska may be a bigger challenge. GVEA President Brian Newton said winning that approval could require some “heavy lifting,” since large wind farms are a new concept in Alaska.
If it clears those obstacles, the wind farm will allow GVEA to meet a self-imposed goal of generating 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2014.
The board had vowed at the start of the process that it wouldn’t endorse renewable energy at the expense of higher rates. GVEA projects Eva Creek will provide its members with a small savings during the next 20 years, based on oil prices that average $90 per barrel. The higher oil prices go, the more the wind farm is expected to save.
The anticipated cost of Eva Creek electricity would drop by roughly 10 percent more if a $10 million state grant toward the project survives a veto from Gov. Sean Parnell next week.
“This project makes sense,” said board member Rick Schikora.
But Eva Creek hasn’t been without controversy.
A study commissioned by GVEA determined Eva Creek would save money over other options, but that result was hotly contested by Delta Wind Farm owner Mike Craft and some vocal GVEA members. GVEA began solely considering Eva Creek for development in February, when the board chose its own project over Delta Wind Farm and another planned turbine farm near Anchorage.
GVEA board member Tom DeLong said on Monday that it always made sense for the utility to run its own project, rather than contracting with a wind farm owned by a for-profit company. He said the numbers proved that point.
“I’m always in support of GVEA owning and operating, being in control and reaping 100 percent of the benefits,” DeLong said.
The Eva Creek decision caps a good month for advocates of wind power in Alaska, including the two projects passed over by GVEA.
CIRI reached an agreement two weeks ago to supply power in Southcentral from its proposed Fire Island wind farm near Anchorage. Craft, meanwhile, said he’s a close to finalizing a deal with an unspecified customer. He said more details will be available when the contract is complete.
“It’s a smaller project, but nonetheless it’s worthwhile,” he said.
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