Giving new life to old platforms wins Caring for Kenai contest

Posted: Friday, April 18, 2003

A trip to an offshore oil platform several years ago inspired Kristen Frederic to start thinking about Cook Inlet's future once the oil is gone.

Her forward-thinking idea -- and a bit of elbow grease --won the Nikiski Junior/Senior High School student first place in the 2003 Caring for the Kenai Contest.

Displaying a scale model of a platform modified to harness wind, solar and hydroelectric power that she welded herself, Frederic told a panel of judges Wednesday how her design will take advantage of natural forces that currently go unused in the inlet.

"No one in Alaska is working to harness it," Frederic said.

Her plan involves installing underwater turbines, solar panels and wind generators on existing platforms. The energy produced would both save the cost of removing the platforms and increase the amount of electricity produced in the area through alternative sources.

Frederic said she believes the platforms are engineering marvels that should be used long into the future instead of simply being removed from the inlet.

"These magnificent structures are just going to be torn down," she said.

The panel of eight judges agreed and awarded Frederic the top prize in a contest that saw approximately 500 other environmentally friendly ideas submitted from students across the peninsula. For her work, she took home $1,500 in cash, along with $900 for Nikiski's science program.

Winning Wednesday's final round of competition was no breeze, however. Frederic beat out 12 other finalists who presented ideas ranging from new ways of producing fertilizer from fish waste to environment-education programs for children.

Judges were asked to base their decision on several criteria, including originality, environmental benefits, scope of idea, research and development, technology applied, oral presentation and visual aids. Following the presentations, many remarked on the difficulty in choosing just one winner in the highly competitive competition. One judge, Alaska Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, said he believes the contest -- now in its 13th year -- should become a model for the rest of the state.

"I was very impressed by all of these students," Leman said. "To take this and transfer the the program elsewhere in Alaska, we can accomplish a lot."

The contest, sponsored by Unocal and Agrium, awarded nearly $13,500 in cash prizes to individual winners and their schools. Agrium's Kenai Nitrogen Operations plant manager Mike Nugent said Wednesday he believes the program is beneficial not only because of the ideas students put forward, but also because of the valuable life experience it provides the students.

"I continue to be impressed by the quality of the presentations and the delivery of the students," Nugent said. "It's about the experience of being on stage."

For her part, Wednesday's big winner said she never expected to win. She simply came up with an idea she felt might make a difference for the environment.

"I wasn't expecting it at all," said a beaming Frederic following the announcement that she'd won. "I just wanted something that stood out and was different."

Frederic's win, however, may not have come as quite a big surprise to her teacher at Nikiski. That's because her father, Richard Frederic, is also her science teacher at the school. Frederic said he incorporates the contest into his curriculum each year, and that his daughter's victory is an extension of the dedication many of his students have shown to the environment.

"We had five finalists this year," Frederic said. "It brings the kids up to a new level."

Showing that he's just as forward-thinking as his daughter, Frederic said the real value of the program may be years into the future, when projects like Kristen's may actually be used for a practical purpose.

"What's going to really look great is if we can get that project to actually happen," he said.

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