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By Mary Lochner | Anchorage Press— The Alaska Energy Authority is on its way to getting a license to build a hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River at Watana Creek, roughly 90 river miles northeast of Talkeetna.

Proponents of the dam say it will provide stable electricity rates for the Railbelt far into the future. Opponents charge it will cost too much in state money and impacts, and that there are better ways to provide for Alaska’s electricity needs.

Back in January 2009, then-Governor Sarah Palin was giving the Susitna-Watana dam its official raisons d’être. When she announced the state’s new goal of producing 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, there was no mention of a dam project. Environmentalists praised the decision. They might have been less enthusiastic if they’d realized the goal would be widely cited as justification for bringing a major hydroelectric project in Alaska.

“The only way we could ever achieve that goal would be to have big hydro,” said Joe Griffith, Matanuska Electric Association’s general manager and also president of a new cooperative of Railbelt electric utilities.

“Everyone was concerned we were going to run out of gas in Cook Inlet,” he said. “What better way to get something resolved than to start talking about renewable, because that was a vogue term and still is.”

Griffith said it was a goal advanced by the Palin administration, not the utility companies, but he thinks it was a sensible move.

Money had already been appropriated in the 2008 legislative session to study the feasibility of big hydro in Alaska. In 2009, state-hired consultants evaluated possible hydro projects at two sites: one on the Susitna River, and one at Chakachamna in the Cook Inlet.

The Susitna site won out, and initial cost-analysis and evaluation of the project, based on modeling from the 1980s when it was first explored by the state, was completed in November 2009.

In the same month, the Alaska Energy Authority released its draft Railbelt Regional Integrated Resources Plan, a guiding document for development of the electrical power system in the Railbelt. It included construction of a major hydro project.

But getting half the state’s electricity from renewables wasn’t the legally-adopted state energy policy until June 16, 2010, when Gov. Sean Parnell signed House Bill 306. A group of citizens, some representing renewable energy groups, contributed to the final version that passed in the State house and senate and was signed by Parnell. The bill’s language doesn’t explicitly call for the major hydroelectric project that would likely be necessary in order to achieve its energy policy goals.

Chris Rose, who was on the citizens’ group that worked on the bill, said he remembers discussion about whether or not hydro counts as renewable (it doesn’t in most states). But, he said, he doesn’t remember anyone talking about a major hydro project as a way to achieve the bill’s renewable energy goals.

“I would not say it was ever discussed,” said Rose, who is Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. “I don’t think it was what anyone contemplated, was the only way to get the 50 percent was a dam.”

But the policy is cited by the Alaska Energy Authority as the reason building the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam not only desirable for the state, but also necessary. AEA’s webpage on big hydro in the Railbelt states” “The only way to achieve the new goal of deriving 50 percent of our electricity from renewable and alternative sources is for a new, large hydroelectric project to be built in the Railbelt region.”

The state agency met in April 2011 with the Federal Regulatory Commission, the federal agency in charge of licensing the dam, to discuss moving the project forward. By July 14, 2011, Governor Parnell had signed Senate Bill 42, authorizing the state to pursue and construct the dam. In Dec. 2011, AEA filed its pre-application with FERC, putting the project officially in the pre-licensing process.

Wayne Dyok, project manager for Susitna-Watana, said his team plans to apply for the dam’s license with FERC in September 2015. Construction, once it begins, is expected to take about seven years, he said. Read more

By Kirsten Korosec | SmartPlanet— Alaska utility Kodiak Electric Association has aspirations to double the capacity of its wind farm project, which already provides nearly 10 percent of its power. To do that, KEA has to somehow bring stability to this sporadic source of power. Its answer: a battery farm.

Xtreme Power announced Tuesday an agreement with KEA to install a 3 megawatt battery storage and management system onto the Pillar Mountain Wind Project.  The 4.5 MW wind farm was completed in 2009. The rural utility decided last year to expand Pillar Mountain in an effort to wean itself off diesel-powered generation. But the intermittent nature of wind power on this scale can create grid instability issues, the electric cooperative noted in a release today. Ultimately, the electric cooperative wants 95 percent of its electricity to be generated by renewable energy by 2020.

Xtreme Power’s battery storage system, which has management software designed to control use and smooth out power fluctuations on the grid, is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2012. Read more

The Republic | FAIRBANKS, Alaska — When the drone of a massive air compressor chugged to a halt Friday morning at a construction site near the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jack Hebert said with a smile that it would be the last time any fossil fuel would be used there.

Hebert, the president of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, was joking — but not by much. CCHRC and UAF are joining together to build a new student housing complex with the experimental buildings that they believe will function year-round without burning any on-site oil.

Planners for the development, dubbed the Sustainable Village, unveiled designs Friday for four new buildings at the site near UAF’s lower campus. By using super-insulated buildings, solar heat systems and biomass, they hope the project will ultimately help a region struggling with high energy costs.

Planners behind the development are setting expectations high from the start. Hebert thinks the lessons learned from the Sustainable Village development could transform cold-weather home-building techniques.

“We want this to be a worldwide example of what can be done at this latitude, and I think we’ll accomplish that,” Hebert said.

The project is unusual not only for its ambitions, but for how it has developed. CCHRC sought design ideas from UAF students last fall, and the winning five-student team joined planners this winter to come up with a prototype for the development.

The more ambitious elements of the student design, such as a “living machine” that would treat wastewater with plants and micro-organisms, didn’t make it into the buildings that will go up this summer. But the basic layout for the homes — boxy designs with flat roofs, an outside deck and big, south-facing windows — was largely intact from the student blueprints.

They’ll be integrated with a heavily insulated envelope, a solar-hydronic heating system and, most likely, a pellet stove for a mid-winter boost. Two different types of foundations will be used, along with four different types of wall systems. A 14-kilowatt array of solar panels at the site was funded by a UAF sustainability grant. Read more

Alaska Dispatch– Three vessels from Tianchang, China, docked at the Port of Anchorage this week, the first visible step expected to lead to wind turbines on Fire Island contributing to Anchorage’s power grid.

For now, the wind turbines and related equipment will be stored at the port until all the ice is gone. Then a landing craft or barge will haul the equipment to Fire Island, where construction will get underway this summer. A company named Tetra Tech was the successful bidder to deliver 11 windmills for the Cook Inlet Region, Inc. (CIRI) Fire Island Wind Project. The venture is the state’s first major power project owned by an independent power producer. Chugach Electric Association, Alaska’s largest electric utility, will buy the power.

Once construction of the turbines and undersea transmission lines are finished, the wind farm is expected to begin supplying power late this year. The Fire Island project is envisioned to eventually consist of 33 wind turbines able to generate 144,000 megawatts of electricity each year – estimated to be enough to supply 17,000 households. Read more

By Richard M. Rosenblum, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company | RenewableEnergyWorld:  Hawaii is one of the world’s premier travel destinations. However, if visitors look beyond the views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, palm trees and the blue Pacific, they’ll see a renewable energy transformation under way that could be a model for others around the world.

Imported fossil fuel, mostly oil, supplies 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy for transportation and electricity – the highest in the United States. Skyrocketing and volatile oil prices have impacted the cost of electricity. Clearly, Hawaii’s dependence on oil, which powered these islands for nearly a century, is unsustainable.

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is part of a broad public-private partnership to develop a clean energy future for these islands. Our partners include Hawaii’s people, the state and federal governments and the business and academic communities. Virtually everyone in Hawaii has a stake in our efforts and a voice in our course forward. The goal: reduce Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuel, lower and stabilize electricity bills for our customers, and protect our environment.

Whether it’s using “green” biofuels to produce power, leading the drive to adopt electric vehicles, drilling for more geothermal energy, integrating more solar and wind power, or testing the latest smart-grid advances, HECO and its subsidiaries are developing a broad portfolio of solutions to create a clean energy future for Hawaii.

What makes this more than a local “good news” story is that Hawaii is a perfect laboratory for developing new renewable energy technologies and the grid modernization needed to make them all work together.

Although it may not yet be apparent to everyone, our portfolio of renewables is growing. In 2010, the Solar Electric Power Association ranked HECO third in the United States for growth in solar power. Hawaii has more solar watts per customer than all but a few U.S. states. Read more

The Oregonian: Under overcast skies, Patti Jarrett learned she had a nearly ideal roof for the 3.29-kilowatt solar energy system she planned to lease. South facing. Good tilt. Little shade. An hour later, she wrote Sunlight Solar a check to install panels she contends will provide significant energy savings over the next 20 years.

Jarrett, 72, sits on the Growing Solar Clackamas County steering committee and is determined to persuade as many of her neighbors as possible to sign up for solar by April 15. “Energy conservation is really critical,” she said. “We have declining resources and this is such a wonderful resource.”

And it’s a good time to buy. Imported Chinese panels and cells have driven down prices. And while that’s also led to a drop in Energy Trust of Oregon cash incentives for solar, those incentives and state and federal tax credits still help lower the cost considerably. Community-based campaigns like the one in Clackamas make it even less expensive.

These campaigns, where neighbors buy or lease discounted solar energy systems in bulk as part of a limited-time offer, are lighting up the state from Portland to Pendleton. Beaverton just put solar on more than 250 homes. West Linn and Lake Oswego will soon launch a joint campaign. Gresham is gearing up for one, as is Eugene. Northeast Portland is in the midst of its second.

Oregon’s first community-initiated “solarize” model started in Portland in 2009 with the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition and Energy Trust of Oregon. Later, Portland took the program on, winning a two-year, $400,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant that expires in June. Additional campaigns in the city’s Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast and North sections helped Portland install a total of 1.5 megawatts of solar — enough to power 125 homes.

Communities from across the state and nation (including Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Jose) called Portland to learn about replicating the campaigns, prompting the city to create The Solarize Guidebook, a free online resource. Portland also decided to share its federal money, giving seed funding to Growing Solar Clackamas County and Solarize West Linn-Lake Oswego as well as some community organizations in Union County and in the Rogue and Willamette valleys.  Read more

CRN TechCurve: Electric generation from renewables like wind and solar is making dramatic inroads in many areas of the United States, with some utilities reporting penetration levels of 30 percent or higher on individual feeders. But as these variable power sources continue to expand their presence on the nation’s electric grids, power companies are seeking new and better ways to address the challenges of system integration and stability.

As is often the case with grid innovations, electric cooperatives in Alaska are ahead of the curve. Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA), a 1,200-member system located 30 miles above the Arctic Circle, has been steadily adding wind turbines to their power mix over the past decade. They currently generate 1.1 MW, or more than 40 percent peaking load, from wind. The remainder is covered by diesel generators. This spring, they’ll take their power mix to another level by adding two 900-kW turbines which will give the co-op 2.9 MW of wind power, more than 100 percent of average load. But, KEA still faces the challenge of harnessing the energy from this intermittent generation source. As part of the solution, KEA has taken a ground-breaking step: the installation of a TransFlow 2000, a huge zinc-bromide flow battery system that will allow the co-op to better balance its wind and diesel generation. Read more

By Joe Viechnicki of KFSK Radio:  PETERSBURG, AK. The agency that sells hydro-electric power to the Southeast communities of Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg is going to look into the possibility of raising one of its hydro dams. The Southeast Alaska Power Agency is trying to make up for a shortage of cheap hydro electricity from an increasing wintertime demand. SEAPA officials say adding new hydro plants to the southern Southeast power grid may not be answer. The SEAPA board met in Petersburg this month and voted to investigate the potential for raising the dam at Swan Lake near Ketchikan, and will hold off on applying for a new project near Wrangell.
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Carol Heyman, Manager Commercial & Community Relations for Chugach Electric Association, Inc., will be speaking on Smart Power and engaging the public in a dialogue on Energy Efficiency, as well as hearing ideas on how Chugach and other utilities should communicate about the possible gas crisis this winter.

A bit about Carol:  An Anchorage resident since 1971, Carol develops and maintains communications with Chugach’s largest commercial customers. Working with Chugach engineering and operations staff to assist commercial customers with construction, lighting and energy projects has been the core of her business activity with Chugach Electric.  Carol has helped develop Chugach’s web based load management and billing program for large commercial customers.  For the past 10 years Carol has coordinated lighting workshops and audits for Chugach. Over the past year her main focus has been helping to develop and establish Smart Power, Chugach’s collaborative energy efficiency program.

Carol stays active in many organizations and serves as a link between Chugach and the Community.  She and her husband, Duane, as co-chairs, completed the $19 million capital campaign for the new addition to the Anchorage Museum.

Other activities include the following:
Alaska District Export Council, appointee of the US Secretary of Commerce
Alaska Regional Hospital, Board of Trustees
UAA Small Business Development Center Statewide Advisory Board
Active member, Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA), Anchorage Chamber of Commerce – Camp $tart-Up Committee (ATHENA Society), American Hospital Association, Anchorage Project Access Development Committee

Southwest Washington’s high-tech industry is wising up to the business opportunities in the smart grid — also called the Internet for the electrical power grid.

Bringing the nation’s aging electrical grid into the information age will require overlaying the existing grid with a digital communications system that includes sensors, controls and wireless devices. Such systems, proponents say, will give utilities more precise control over power production and distribution that in turn creates energy savings, increases power quality and reliability, and allows more renewable energy sources to come online. Consumers will also gain more control over their energy costs through flexible utility rates and in-home monitoring devices a smart grid would allow.

Read more

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