Utilities look to renewables as natural gas dwindles 

Analysis by Tim Bradner for the Alaska Journal of Commerce: Despite its high costs, renewable energy is a good risk-management strategy for Southcentral Alaska electric utilities, which currently depend heavily on natural gas for power generation. The problem is natural gas reserves are running down, and the only near-term guaranteed fall-back is imported liquefied natural gas.< It's not a good position to be in. Renewable energy – wind, hydro and geothermal – can be expensive at the front-end but its key advantage, in the long run is that the fuel is free, Chris Rose, executive director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, an advocacy group, told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce April 25. "Bradley Lake hydro is now the cheapest power in the Railbelt grid but it didn't look that way 20 years ago when the dam was built. At the time it didn't seem to pencil. It was expensive to build and natural gas was still cheap," Rose said.The state and the Railbelt utilities partnered to build the Bradley Lake dam near Homer anyway. Natural gas prices have since doubled from what they were 20 years ago but the cost of Bradley Lake hydro power has been stable and low, Rose said. It didn't come up in the discussion at the chamber, but Cook Inlet Region Inc.'s planned $160 million Fire Island wind project and CIRI's difficulties in securing power sales agreements with local utilities, was clearly on peoples' minds at the chamber lunch. Rose said he didn't want to talk about individual projects, but that his message is that the Railbelt needs a diversified basket of renewables to offset its overreliance on fossil fuels. Read more

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