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.
Rural Alaska, which is largely powered by expensive diesel fuel, has seen rapid development of community-scale wind diesel systems in recent years. In 2009, Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) installed the state’s first megawatt-scale turbines and then doubled the size of its wind farm in 2012. The project’s six 1.5 MW turbines now supply more than 18% of the community’s electricity. Combined with the Terror Lake hydroelectric project, KEA can now shut off their diesel generators almost all year. Alaska Village Electric Cooperative has wind-diesel hybrid systems installed in 10 of the 55 Western and Interior villages it serves, and is developed projects in at least five other communities. Unalakleet Valley Electric Cooperative added a 600 kW wind farm in 2009. That same year, a private for-profit corporation funded the installation of an 18-turbine 1.17 MW wind farm in Nome. Kotzebue added two 900 kW turbines in 2012, more than doubling its wind capacity.
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 Utilities and independent producers have installed three wind projects to diversify the regions energy mix and provide a hedge against rising fossil fuel prices. Those projects are a 17.6 MW wind farm near Anchorage on Fire Island, Golden Valley Electric Association’s 24.6 MW Eva Creek wind farm near Healy, and a 1 MW wind farm near Delta Junction that is slated to nearly double its size in 2013. At the end of 2012, Alaska had a total installed wind capacity of 63.8 MW.
For information on how to develop wind power in your area, check out REAP’s Community Wind Toolkit.
Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska 2013
Energy Information Administration
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Kotzebue Electric Association
Alaska Village Electric Cooperative
Alaska Center for Economic Development
Who we are
Renewable Energy Alaska Project is a coalition of energy stakeholders working to facilitate the development of renewable energy in Alaska through collaboration, education, training, and advocacy.