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Unalaska City Council mulls windmills

Two gigantic windmills with blades the length of a football field, and maybe a field goal to boot, are in the planning stages for Unalaska, according to a local contractor and a former city engineer, who described the project to the Unalaska City Council last month.

The plan for two 3-megawatt turbines was described by gravel quarry owner Bill Shaishnikoff and engineer Keith Pedwell, of Bering Shai-Pedwell Energy Inc. They hope to generate an average of 19 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, and sell it to the city, which presently powers the community with a diesel plant.

Sites under consideration include Pyramid Valley, Mount Ballyhoo near Ulalatka Head, or maybe Little South America and Arkansas Beach on Hog Island. Pedwell said he’d like to see the turbines up and running in a year-and-a-half. Shaishnikoff said they would be located on land owned by the Ounalashka Corporation, and is discussing a land lease with O.C. CEO Chris Salts.

The blades would be 300 to 330 feet in diameter, the towers would reach between 250 to 330 feet skyward, with a weight of 400 to 450 tons. The turbines would generated 3 megawatts when the wind is blowing 30 to 40 mph, and shut down when wind speeds reach 55 to 60 mph.

The goals and objectives are to develop clean, environmentally conscious, responsible and safe wind power in Unalaska and beyond, according to the developers. The positive environmental considerations
include a non-polluting power source that displaces greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, and reduces human health risks and the air shed plume and risk of fuel contamination. The potential negatives include birds killed by the huge spinning blades, noise, and aesthetic offense to those who see the enormous machines as unsightly.

A proposed power sale agreement calls for the city to buy maximum power it needs at 17.3 cents per kilowatt hour or the displaced value of diesel fuel whichever is greater, and without charging a sales tax. The city would save money in the medium to long term.

By contrast, according to the wind proponents, the city now pays 14.8 to 15 cents per kilowatt hour in fuel costs, while maintenance and labor adds about another 2 cents. Then there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on rebuilding diesel equipment, and depreciation of the whole plant at millions annually.

“More dollars will stay right here in the community,” said local Alaska Native contractor Shaishnikoff, owner of Bering Shai Rock and Gravel on Captains Bay Road, born and raised in Unalaska, and active in the Qawalangin Tribe, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association and the Unalaska Native Fisherman’s Association.

Pedwell is a former Unalaska resident and city engineer with a Ph.D. and 42 years of experience domestically and internationally in power project development at senior executive management levels.

With wind generated by a private contractor, the city avoids the risks associated with construction costs and shifting demands in power in the fisheries-dependent community, according to the developers. Shaishnikoff said the private sector can operate more efficiently, compared to the government.

The city is currently collecting wind data from meteorological towers on Bunker Hill and in Pyramid Valley, conducted by V3 Energy. The wind data could be used by private contractor, according to Unalaska Department of Public Works Director Thomas Cohenour.

BSPEI says its value includes reduced cost to the city, no project risk for the city, support for local businesses and Native contractors, overall substantial environmental advantage, and the city may be able to provide additional power to others.

The city is the biggest single power generator, through the Unalaska Department of Public Utilities. But it’s not the only one, with various seafood plants also operating their own diesel plants, and just last year additional units were installed outside the newest big fish factory, Icicle Seafoods’ processing ship Northern Victor, anchored permanently in the inner elbow of Dutch Harbor on Ballyhoo Road.