Geothermal could be key to figuring out Nome’s costly power problem 

By Sean Doogan | The Alaska Dispatch: Scientists and drillers are searching for hot water — and lots of it — at Pilgrim Hot Springs, 60 miles northeast of Nome on Alaska’s western coast. A drill rig is currently chewing away at the earth, and has passed 750 feet in depth. Once it reaches 1,000 feet, groups interested in a geothermal power plant there may have their answer: can the hot springs supply enough geothermal energy to make it a worthwhile endeavor?

If it can, Nome — a once and present gold rush town of 3,600 people at the end of the Iditarod Trail — may become the first Alaska city to fulfill most of its energy needs with wind and geothermal resources.

Nome already has 3 megawatts of wind power generated by two turbine farms at Banner Peak.  But that’s not enough to handle the peak electric loads for the summer (4.5mw) or winter (6.5mw). And wind power is not guaranteed — if there is too little wind, or if it gusts too high, the turbines have to be shut down.

18 mw of diesel power — which includes back-up generators needed if one of the main power plants goes offline — handles most of the city’s electric generation. It is an expensive solution to Nome’s power needs. The price of the fuel — barged to the city through the Bering Sea — has risen to $3.50 per gallon this summer. As a result, the going rate for electricity in Nome is 36 cents per kilowatt hour. By contrast, people in the state’s largest city of Anchorage pay less than half that, just 14 cents per kilowatt hour.

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