Responding to one member's request and an acknowledged need for renewable energy sources, Homer Electric Association has completed work on regulations governing the integration of residential wind turbines and solar panels into HEA's power grid.
People served by HEA, who wish to supplement their electricity supply with wind and sun energy may now apply to do so as long as they comply with HEA rules.
Last March, Philip St. John, owner of Midnight LLC Construction, installed a 70-foot-tall wind turbine for a customer in Nikiski, hoping to capture Kenai Peninsula wind and convert it to electricity.
St. John, however, was not allowed to link the wind-turbine electricity to the HEA grid because the peninsula electric utility said its members needed to be protected from possible damage to the system caused by outsiders.
"It is new technology and we need to be sure all the faults are cleared," HEA manager of distribution and engineering services Brad Hibberd said at the time. "It's best to move forward cautiously."
By clearing the faults, Hibberd was referring to electrical faults along HEA's power distribution lines.
"If there's a problem on our distribution system, we want the generator to not feed into that fault," Hibberd said. "We want to be sure there's a disconnect switch on the line."
That safeguards Homer Electric's members, as well as any HEA employees who might be working on the distribution system.
Hibberd went to work writing guidelines and drafting an interconnections policy for the association's management staff.
After careful review, the policy and application forms were approved late in August.
"We've got it in place," said HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher on Monday, about the policy, application and agreement forms. "(St. John's customer) is up and running."
Under the new "Interconnection of Member-Owned Alternative Power Installations" policy, the types of allowable alternate energy-generating facilities include wind, solar, geothermal, landfill gas, wave or tidal action, gas produced during treatment of wastewater, hydropower and biomass energy.
To be interconnected, the HEA member must complete an application for new or rework of electrical service and an interconnection application. The member must also provide equipment specifications, protection arrangements and design drawings to HEA for review.
In order for HEA to maintain existing power quality and reliability, only one interconnection per distribution transformer will be authorized.
Hibberd said normally between one and six members are served by each transformer.
"We will look at that on an individual basis," he said when asked if exceptions would be allowed.
So far, St. John's customer is the only member who has asked HEA for approval to connect a wind turbine.
At $12,000 per installation, St. John said customers are more interested in helping the environment than they are in saving money.
The Skystream 3.7 wind turbine he installed in Nikiski will generate about 300 kilowatt hours per month, he said, and the average home uses about 500 to 600.
If any surplus electricity were generated, it could be sold to HEA.
Hibberd said the utility sells power at the retail rate of about 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour, and purchases power at the wholesale rate of 5.8 cents.
In addition to its new policy allowing individual members to apply for interconnection approval, HEA says it is all in favor of renewable energy, pointing to the Bradley Lake generating station, which employs hydroelectric power.
Gallagher also said HEA is a member of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), which is "looking at the Fire Island Project ... a large source of wind power."
The utility is planning a wind power forum for the end of October at the Islands and Oceans Visitors Center in Homer.
"It's tentatively set for Oct. 25," Gallagher said.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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