HEA in line to get $7 million for wind

Posted: Monday, April 26, 2010

The winds blew favorably for Homer Electric Association as the legislative session came to a close last week, but the company will have to hope for more of the same if it is to be granted the $7 million that state lawmakers allotted it for construction of a wind farm in Nikiski.

Within the state capital budget is money for the project, aimed at placing wind turbines along the bluff adjacent to the Agrium plant.

Gov. Sean Parnell still has line item veto power, however, and has said he plans to trim the budget.

Should the funds be granted, HEA will be a figurative guinea pig for testing the incorporation of what are referred to as "non-firm" power sources into the Railbelt energy grid that serves Southcentral and the Interior.

According to Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for HEA, the company is negotiating with an independent power producer on a project called Kenai Winds that could generate as much as 14.4 megawatts of electricity, depending on how the winds blow.

A 5-megawatt reciprocating generator, or a battery bank of commensurate energy, would improve HEA's ability to integrate the windmills into the grid.

Gallagher said the $7 million should cover most of the installation costs.

He called the project "shovel ready" and said the turbines could be online by the end of the year.

Gallagher explained that the Railbelt grid is unique compared to those in the Lower 48 because it's isolated and serves a relatively light load spread out over a large geographic area.

Much of the grid is powered by natural gas and hydroelectric, which are considered "firm" sources.

Adding wind power, which fluctuates, would change that.

"Nobody knows for sure what it's going to mean," Gallagher said. "There will be challenges and opportunities to learn from this project and finding out how it actually works."

As part of the appropriation, HEA will be sharing what they find with other Railbelt power providers.

Gallagher said the Nikiski location is considered ideal compared to other parts of the Railbelt because it has steady winds, is located close to transmission lines and is on the road system.

"When you look at wind availability, there are great sites but they're way off the road system and far from transmission lines, and that plays heavily into costs," he said.

Gallagher said that should negotiations with an independent power producer fall through, HEA is prepared to use the $7 million along with loan funds and move forward with construction of its own wind generation project.

He said such an endeavor would likely be smaller, though.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com

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