Will Pilgrim Hot Springs Solve Nome’s Energy Needs?
November 5, 2013
By Sean Doogan | The Alaska Dispatch: After drilling several test holes at a hot springs near Nome, scientists and prospective developers of a planned geothermal electric project still haven’t found the energy they need. But they may be getting close.
A production-size hole — big enough to be turned into a working geothermal power plant — was drilled in September. It produced plenty of water, one of the requirements for a planned 2-megawatt power plant. But the water wasn’t quite hot enough. Two smaller holes were later drilled into the tundra at Pilgrim Hot Springs, 60 miles northeast of Nome, in mid-October to test for hotter water temperatures, but scientists aren’t sure yet if the site will produce fluid near 190 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the threshold for a geothermal plant to produce enough energy at the site to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Meanwhile, work is wrapping at Pilgrim Hot Springs for the winter. The drill rig is being torn down, as is the temporary camp used by workers.
But interest in the site is still smoldering. A coalition of Alaska Native corporations, local village groups and University of Alaska scientists have joined a private company, Pilgrim Hot Springs LLC, to determine if the area could bolster Nome’s growing renewable energy resources and help the Bering Sea community end its reliance on costly — and sometimes difficult to obtain — diesel fuel.
Pilgrim Hot Springs has been examined many times before, but there’s no commercial production yet. The issue: Is its hot water hot enough to support a commercial operation?
Chena Hot Springs — an 80-room resort 580 miles east of Nome, near Fairbanks — is the state’s only operating geothermal power plant. Steamy water there powers some 400 kilowatts of electricity, providing all of the resort’s needs. But Nome, with a population of 3,600, needs much more power. The Nome Joint Utility System needs at least 2 megawatts from the project to make it feasible and cost efficient. The first hole drilled in Spetember, yielded water temperatures of 165 degrees. That’s enough to power a small electric generator, but it would only produce enough energy to power on-site needs — about 200 kilowatts — but not enough to light the hundreds of homes and businesses in nearby Nome. Another test well shows greater promise.