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Keeping the lights on: Sustainable energy initiatives pop up on the peninsula

Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Editor's note: The Clarion this week is taking a look back at some of the people and events in the news in 2010.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
The number of power generating wind turbines, like this one erected at Debbie and Gene Palm's Nikiski home earlier this year, is slowly growing on the Kenai Peninsula.

The central Kenai Peninsula took the lead this year on a number of renewable energy efforts.

The efforts came in two forms: energy production-friendly policy changes by local entities, and energy production by local residents.

In June, Homer Electric Association was the first utility in Alaska to adopt a new net metering program that allowed members to connect their own renewable energy systems to the grid, said Joe Gallagher, the association's public relations coordinator. By early November, 37 systems were online, up from 29 when the program began in June.

"The majority are wind systems," Gallagher said, adding that there are also a handful of solar panels.

Through the program, members receive a credit for energy they produce for the grid. If they produce more than they consume, they are credited for the amount of energy they produce in excess of what they use. And if they use more than they produce, they receive a bill for the difference.

City Manager Rick Koch said Kenai's city council was the first to pass an ordinance regarding wind turbines last winter.

"Other communities on the Peninsula have looked to our ordinance to model their's after," he said. Soldotna passed an ordinance allowing wind turbines this spring.

Not all policy changes came from the cities and the association. Kenai Peninsula Central High School student Freya Chay also had a hand in some changes.

Chay pushed for an amendment to Senate Bill 220, 2010's omnibus energy bill, that incentivizes small-time energy production. Specifically, the legislation gave municipalities in Alaska the option to exempt residential renewable energy systems from property taxes. Chay's efforts were part of the Caring for the Kenai competition (she won), and followed a borough resolution that supported the idea but required a change at the state level before the it could be enacted.

Nadia Daggett, president of the Alaska Chapter of Women of Wind Energy, said the organization highlighted Chay as a "li'l WoWE" for her work in 2010.

On the production side of things, Gallagher said it was a busy year. By early November, Peninsula households connected to HEA's grid had produced 28,393 kilowatt hours of energy by alternative methods, Gallagher said in an e-mail. In 2009, the amount was about 11793 kWhs.

"We have nearly tripled the amount of energy produced by member-owned systems in just one year," he wrote.

Alaskan Wind Industries has installed a majority of the area's wind turbines, said Daggett, the company's operations manager. As more people install the systems, more people want them, so her company has been installing more every year.

"Renewable energy and wind is a viable solution," she said, adding that for some residents, energy production covers the cost of a large chunk of their energy bill.

This year, the systems have been bigger than in the past.

"Most of the residents have gone with larger systems," she said.

And the windy winter has made the new systems successful pretty quickly.

Daggett said two producers in Nikiski have been battling to see who produces more wind. In two days, one produced about as much energy as he uses in a week -- 250 kWhs.

Dagget has been involved in the energy scene in Kenai for quite some time. She and her husband started Alaskan Wind Industries in 2007, she said.

Alaskan Wind Industries isn't the only source of wind efforts on the central peninsula.

Kenai Winds, a company owned by Apex Energy, received $2 million in an early round of Alaska Department of Energy funding, and applied again in round three, said James Jensen, from the department's wind program. Round three funding was vetoed by Gov. Sean Parnell, but the company is looking for more funding in the next round, Jensen said.

That project would create a commercial wind farm in Nikiski.

The City of Kenai also looked at a city-operated wind project. The report, produced by RSA Engineering, said that the turbines they looked at didn't pencil out financially for Kenai's needs. Koch said that the 2010 report doesn't rule out a wind project in the future.

"That doesn't mean the technology won't evolve in the future to work with lower quality wind," said Koch.

Energy production isn't Kenai's only sustainable community effort. Koch said the city is working on a number of efforts to help conserve energy and greenbacks -- from applying for state funds to upgrade three buildings, to installing LED street lights and replacing lights in public buildings.

"As technology evolves, we try and take advantage of that," he said.

And at HEA, Joe Gallagher said the utility is still working to create a new power plant so that it won't have to renew a natural gas contract when it comes up in 2013.

Residents are doing the same. Daggett said her company already has contracts for turbine installation once the ground warms up. "A lot of people are seeing that (wind turbines) work."

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.



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