Massive wind turbines newest features of Kotzebue skyline 

By Hannah Heimbuch | The Arctic Sounder: There are a couple of new features on the Kotzebue skyline this spring. Two 250-foot towers have sprouted up about 4 miles from town, the newest additions to Kotzebue Electric Association’s wind farm.

It’s true the farm already sported 17 windmills, but the new additions are on a bit of a different playing field and triple the farm’s wind-power capacity. The 17 turbines were supplying about 1.1 megawatts of wind power. That boost allowed KEA to decrease last year’s diesel use by 90,000 gallons. With the two new Danish mills adding 1.8 megawatts, diesel use will be at an all-time low. Good news, considering diesel costs have doubled twice in the last decade.

“We’re at a point where the town can absorb as much as we’ve got at this point,” said KEA General Manager Brad Reeves, saying this is the cap for the electric utility’s wind power for now.

The problem with adding more wind power is what to do with the excess, Reeves said. If the grid doesn’t need it all at the moment, that extra juice has to go somewhere. KEA is working with a modern power storage technology, a zinc bromide flow battery, which allows excess power to be stored at slow periods and called in for duty at high-usage times.

In many ways, the KEA farm is an innovator. In 1997, they became the first utility-grade wind farm in the state, and one of the first around the world to put turbines up on tundra. That distinction requires a whole other set of blueprints than the average farm, including a winter-only construction season. Read more

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