Blowin' in the wind: HEA members look toward renewable energy

Posted: Sunday, March 01, 2009

Bill and Dorothy Fry, owners of Bear Creek Winery and Lodging in Homer, have always been mindful of the environment, encouraging customers to recycle and only using bags made from biodegradable and recyclable materials. Come this spring, the Frys are stepping up their green game to a whole new level: they're installing a wind turbine.

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Submitted Photo
Submitted Photo
James and Nadia Daggett, owners of Alaska Wind Industries, stand at the base of an erected wind turbine in Flagstaff, Ariz. on June 31.

"It's something that we have always wanted to do," Dorothy said. "We've been trying to go as green as possible here."

The Frys aren't alone. As utility rates continue to climb, consumers are searching for ways to bring their costs down.

Six homes on the Kenai Peninsula have connected to the grid within the last year and more are expected to join.

"The prices spurred us on to really jump in and do it," Dorothy said, though it's not the only reason she and her husband got involved in renewable energy. Dorothy said it's a goal of hers to build a green home and to leave less of an ecological footprint behind.

"It's a common sense thing," she said. "I think we need more of it."

"I think it's really important to do," said Nadia Daggett, owner of Alaska Wind Industries, the company installing the Frys' turbine. "The less carbon footprint that you can have is better."

Nadia and her husband, James, who also own Standard Steel in Nikiski, traveled to Flagstaff, Ariz., for training on how to install the wind turbines last June.

Alaska Wind Industries, a branch company of Standard Steel, is now a dealer and installer of the turbines on the peninsula.

States across the country have been installing commercial turbines, but Nadia's company offers turbines for individual consumers and small businesses.

"To have people be able to do it and use it themselves was the neatest thing we've ever seen," she said. "You can control your costs."

Once a person decides they want a turbine, Homer Electric Association must be notified so it can be properly connect to the grid.

An application for power needs to be filled out, a new account is created and a new meter must be installed, said Brad Hibberd, manager of distribution engineering services at HEA. A list of interconnection requirements can be found at HEA's Web site at www.homerelectric.com.

Hibberd also conducts research for the installation and makes sure the products has an Underwriters Laboratories Inc. listing.

"That way I know all the safety precautions ... have all been straightened out," he said.

Hibberd also goes to the person's site and gives ideas on where the turbine should be placed.

"I work pretty closely with the individuals installing these things," he said. "We allow the alternative power source to be directly connected to the individual's home."

He said as part of the interconnection program, any power that is generated but not used HEA will buy back.

Of the six different homes on the peninsula that already have connected to the grid, three were wind turbine and three were solar panel installations, Hibberd said.

"There's been a renewed energy to look at alternatives to help offset your bill," he said. "There's a lot of interest in alternative power. It's very easy to do now."

Hibberd said he receives at least two calls per day from HEA members inquiring about renewable energy. Once spring comes, he said he expects the number of calls to increase.

HEA also offers the Sustainable Natural Alternative Power program to support the development of renewable energy projects.

Under SNAP, which was approved last fall by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, any member can voluntarily donate money that goes into a SNAP fund.

That money is then distributed once a year back to members who are producing electricity from renewable sources.

"It's members supporting other members," said HEA spokesperson Joe Gallagher. "It's an opportunity for people to support the production of renewable energy."

The money designated for SNAP is not used for any other purpose, Gallagher said. The amount received for those producing renewable power is based on how much is in the SNAP fund and the amount of energy generated.

The SNAP program is a way for HEA members who can't install renewable projects at their homes to still support alternative energy, Gallagher said.

"We know that people support renewable energy," he said. "This is one opportunity they can have to support it on a local level."

Members can make a one-time contribution or donate on a monthly basis. All donations are voluntary.

Thought the program is new, HEA has high expectations for it.

"I'm excited about the program to see where it goes," Gallagher said.

The Obama administration, too, is onboard with renewable energy projects.

The president signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Feb. 17, which puts significant emphasis on renewable projects.

Under the act, residential projects such as wind turbines, geothermal heat pumps and solar panels can be eligible to receive 30 percent back on the entire installation cost.

Although Americans may never be independent of oil, Dorothy said everybody can do their part to be conscientious of oil consumption.

Though there is no cure-all for alternative energy, it's important to pursue all types of renewable energy, she said.

"It just makes sense that you need a variety," she said. "If we can get to the moon, there are a lot of things we're capable of doing."

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.



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