Replacing As Much Of The Energy Cost As They Possibly Can
Renewable energy is often seen as expensive to develop, but for some Alaskan Villages, it may mean important savings, due to the high expense of trucking diesel fuel out to remote locations.
Some villages have made a priority of installing their own wind farms and hooking them up to the town’s energy grids (often called “microgrids”).
They’re even working on effective storage of the wind energy, so that it can still supply energy when there are lulls in the wind. Gradually, the towns up north are replacing more and more of their energy cost with wind energy, and there’s no end in sight.
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Alaska may be home to much of the nation’s fuel resources, but that doesn’t mean power comes cheaply up there. This, however, could be changing … with a little help from the wind.
Currently, about 200 Arctic Alaskan communities use diesel fuel as their primary source of electricity and heat. The costs to transport diesel to the Far North are significant, and these rural villages pay more for power than anywhere else in the U.S. And it’s not just the financial costs that are high. As our very own advice columnist wrote many moons ago:
It takes more oil to manufacture a gallon of diesel than a gallon of standard gasoline, and the production and refining processes for diesel produce more heat-trapping gases. … It’s less refined than gasoline, aka dirtier. Diesel cars emit substantially more particulate matter and NOx, both of which are serious air pollutants and health hazards.
But moving away from diesel isn’t easy in the Arctic. It’s cold there, as you may have heard, with harsh conditions and terrain, and few options for transport. Plus, the people are poor: Most villages in the Northwest Arctic Borough — a vast, frigid area occupied by the Inupiat people — have little to no outside income. But one community has turned to wind power, and, as ClimateWire reports, it’s working:
Kotzebue was the first Arctic community in Alaska to build a wind farm. The city’s electric cooperative began installing turbines in 1997 and has steadily increased its capacity ever since. Last year, wind provided 20 percent of the town’s average electricity demand of 2.5 megawatts.
As its wind capacity has increased, the Kotzebue electric cooperative has been able to cut the amount of fuel it barges into town to run its diesel engines. Last year wind displaced 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel and saved the community $900,000, according to Brad Reeves, general manager of Kotzebue Electric.
Now the Kotzebue microgrid system is looking to further reduce diesel imports by adding a lithium-ion battery unit to its electricity network. The battery, which is the roughly size of a large SUV, will store wind energy when demand is low and tap the power when the renewable resource fluctuates.
“It will be good for that period when we have bands of wind and we have our diesels running,” Reeves explained. “Normally when the winds go out, we’d shift to a bigger diesel unit. The battery will let you stay in that band and keep the smaller diesel on. That will save money.”
Kotzebue isn’t alone. The villages of Buckland and Deering have also invested in renewable energy, and Nome, a booming metropolis 200 miles to the south (population 4,000), erected their first turbines in 2008 (although regular operations didn’t begin until 2010).
The Northwest Arctic Borough set a goal of replacing 25 percent of diesel usage with renewable energy by 2025.
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