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A limit on wind power

Golden Valley Electric Association is the greenest utility in the Railbelt. GVEA has the capacity to generate more than 20 percent of its peak load from renewable sources.

So should the co-op add even more renewable power? Absolutely – as long as it doesn’t increase costs or decrease reliability.

Germany is shutting down its nuclear and coal power plants in an aggressive campaign to go 100 percent renewable by 2050. But Germany’s green power push has increased costs dramatically, according to a Sept. 18 article in the New York Times.

“German families are being hit by rapidly increasing electricity rates, to the point where growing numbers of them can no longer afford to pay the bill,” the Times reported. “Businesses are more and more worried that their energy costs will put them at a disadvantage to competitors in nations with lower energy costs, and some energy-intensive industries have begun to shun the country because they fear steeper costs ahead.”

Fifty-five-year-old Olaf Taeuber, the Times said, relies on a single five-watt bulb to light his apartment. Despite his efforts to conserve, he’s fending off “a threat from Berlin’s main power company to shut off his electricity.”

Adding insult to injury, Germany’s carbon emissions are on the rise.

“Newly constructed offshore wind farms churn unconnected to an energy grid still in need of expansion. And despite all the costs, carbon emissions actually rose last year as reserve coal-burning plants were fired up to close gaps in energy supplies,” the Times reported.

Fortunately, GVEA has taken a more prudent approach to green power. Our renewable energy sources are decreasing emissions – without increasing members’ bills.

In March, Golden Valley entered into discussions with Alaska Environmental Power about increasing the amount of wind power they provide. AEP operates the Delta Wind Farm, which currently contributes up to two megawatts to GVEA’s system. AEP’s president, Mike Craft, wants to expand the wind farm to 25 megawatts.

Golden Valley assembled a working group of employees and outside experts to evaluate AEP’s proposal. The team worked closely with AEP. Then in July, AEP withdrew from negotiations with GVEA and filed a complaint with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, claiming that Golden Valley had bargained in bad faith. This was after GVEA spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours evaluating the proposal and negotiating with AEP.

GVEA was willing to keep negotiating. AEP walked away from the table.

Mr. Craft is circulating a flyer claiming that Delta Wind will save GVEA members $4 million a year. But the numbers don’t add up.

First, AEP wants 12.5 cents per kWh for its wind – 25 percent higher than power from GVEA’s Eva Creek Wind farm.

Second, Mr. Craft has claimed that his wind farm is “free” to GVEA. That’s a half-truth. GVEA members would not bear the construction costs, but they would pay in the form of higher electric bills for many years. It’s kind of like the “free” phone you get from the wireless company. You end up paying for it – and more – when you’re locked into a contract.

Third, the cost of integrating additional wind would be very high for GVEA members.

Wind power must be backed up by conventional power plants, idling in the background, ready to take up the slack instantly if the wind dies down. GVEA’s system has adequate backup capacity for Eva Creek, but adding more wind would require the co-op to keep multiple oil-fired power plants idling in the background, burning lots of oil but producing little power. As you add more wind, the costs of backup increase exponentially. These backup costs can quickly gobble up any savings wind power can produce.

Finally, carbon dioxide emissions could actually rise. Instead of kicking the oil habit, GVEA would have no choice but to burn more oil in its local power plants.

That’s the situation the Germans find themselves in – they’re spending millions of euros and wasting tons of fuel to back up their renewables. GVEA doesn’t want to go there – and you can’t afford to.

Golden Valley Electric Association is always looking for reliable, low-cost power sources, including renewables. But the price must be right.

John Sloan is secretary of the GVEA board of directors. He lives in Delta Junction. Read The New York Times article about Germany’s power situation at http://nyti.ms/1c1aG6T and more from GVEA at blog.gvea.com.