Wind is the oldest form of usable energy. It was first used by Egyptians 5,000 years ago to power their ships, and was later adapted in windmills used to grind wheat and other grains by the Persians in the 7th century. In the 12th century, the Dutch modified and improved upon the windmill design. Like old-fashioned windmills, today’s wind turbines use blades to collect the wind’s kinetic energy. Wind turbines work because the wind flows over the airfoil shaped blades creating lift, like the effect on airplane wings, which causes them to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator to produce electricity.
The size of wind turbines varies widely. While small turbines used to power a single home or business may have a capacity of less than 5 kW, some large commercial sized turbines may have a capacity of 5,000 kW, or 5 MW. Larger turbines are often grouped together into wind farms that provide power to the local electrical grid.
Wind Energy in Alaska
Alaska has abundant wind resources suitable for development, mostly located in the western and coastal portions of the state. The availability of wind resources in combination with the high cost of diesel electricity generation in much of rural Alaska makes wind power an economical and clean alternative to traditional fossil fuels. A typical 1000-kW wind turbine can displace about 17,800 gallons of diesel fuel per year, a savings of nearly $55,000 to an electric utility paying $3.10/gallon for diesel fuel. The largest areas of class 7 (superior) wind power in the United States are located in Alaska. Much of coastal Alaska has “good” or “excellent” wind resources.
Development of wind energy resources in Alaskan villages started over a decade ago. Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA) installed three wind turbines in 1997. Since then, the utility has added 11 more turbines that produce up to 950 kW, about 7% of the coop’s annual electricity consumption. KEA hopes eventually to expand this generating potential to 2-4 MW, enough to power Kotzebue during peak load times and displace 1.4 million gallons of diesel annually. The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) produces 1.36 MW of energy with 17 wind turbines located in the villages of Selawik, Hooper Bay, Wales, Toksook Bay, Savoonga, and Kasigluk. Over 20% of annual electricity is produced by wind power in the villages of Kasigluk and Toksook Bay, and AVEC estimates that 30% of electricity demand in these communities could eventually be produced from wind. AVEC plans to install a total of 1.2 MW of additional generating capacity in the villages of Toksook Bay, Chevak, Mekoryuk, Quinhagak and Gambell by 2010. The Chaninik Wind Group is working to install 450 kW of wind capacity in each of the villages of Kongiganak, Kwigillingok, Tuntutuliak, and Kipnuk in 2009. In Kodiak, the Kodiak Electrical Association is installing three 1.5 MW turbines at Pillar Mountain, with generation expected to begin in the fall of 2009. The Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX) on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea has also been active in developing wind-diesel hybrid generation technology in rural Alaska. TDX built a hybrid system on St. Paul, reducing electricity costs from $0.49 to $0.12 per kWh. Plans are in the works to build similar facilities in the Aleutian villages of Sand Point and Nikolski.
On the Railbelt, several of the major utilities are examining wind power as a way to diversify future sources of energy and hedge against rising natural gas prices. Construction of Anchorage’s first commercial-scale wind farm is underway on Fire Island with plans for the turbines to begin producing power in late 2012. The project is owned by Fire Island Wind LLC, a subsidiary of CIRI, and will use 11 turbines to generate 17.6 MW of electricity, or enough to power about 6,000 homes. Chugach Electric Association has agreed to purchase the wind power for 25 years to supply about 4% of the utility’s load. Golden Valley Electric Association has also made substantial progress towards developing the roughly 25 MW Eva Creek Wind project located near existing transmission lines north of Healy. Together, Fire Island and Eva Creek could provide approximately 5% of the Railbelt’s electrical energy.
Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska 2009
Energy Information Administration
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Kotzebue Electric Association
Alaska Village Electric Cooperative
Alaska Center for Economic Development