Islands are ideal locations for wind power. Their grids are often driven by diesel generators making power expensive. Kodiak Island is such a case. To control the cost of its electricity, the community installed a few turbines. Its Alaskan Pillar Mountain Wind farm has demonstrated that erecting turbines on remote sites is difficult, but not impossible and actually pays off.
Pillar Mountain overlooks Kodiak Island in Alaska, a state that, until recently, had never seen a large wind turbine. Because Kodiak is isolated off the South Coast of Alaska, its power grid gets no help from the outside world. The island’s 12,000 residents relied on a two-unit hydroelectric plant to provide 80% of their power, and seven diesel generators for the other 20%. The island was forced to rely on financially and environmentally costly sources, but wind turbines have changed that.
Darron Scott, CEO of the area’s local utility Kodiak Electric Association (KEA), says the locally-owned and developed project started as a vision by the community. “The island has a goal of 95% renewable power by 2020,” he says. “This goal and the community’s interest in renewables drives a lot of what we do.”
Even with an isolated grid, the island can eventually get 40% penetration rates with wind (40% of island power), so it seemed the most applicable energy source to Scott and his team. The turbines have already spared the burning of nearly 1.4 million gallons of diesel fuel. Getting them up the 1,300-ft mountain was no easy task. As Scott puts it, “It was a process.” KEA chose the site for its close proximity to one of the island’s substations, but the existing gravel road up passes near wetlands and was too narrow to accommodate trucks carrying the turbines. Cautious civil construction work began in 2008, including significant rerouting and reconstructing the road so that turbine components and equipment could reach the site.
“Also, trying to run wind and hydro on an isolated grid was something that had never been done before,” Scott explains. “We didn’t know how well everything would work together. We had to get a large turbine manufacturer to work with us and GE was very supportive of coming here.” Scott says GE understood what was needed from a grid and used grid-interconnection controls and equipment that let wind power interface with the island. Material also had to be barged to the site, increasing potential for delays. A crane was shipped from Wyoming and parts poured in from Seattle. Weather conditions for the high latitude and elevation also limited the time of year when construction activities could take place. But in the summer of 2009, the project reached completion.
Quick facts about Pillar Mountain Wind Project
-Project started in 2008 and completed in summer of 2009
-Farm consists of three GE SLE 1.5-MW turbines on 80-m towers, for a total capacity of 4.5 MW
-Annual production of 12.2 million kWh, at about 12 cents/kWh
-Total cost was about $21.4 million, $4 million of which came from Alaska’s Renewable Energy Grant Fund
-KEA’s grid varies from 11 to 25-MW peak load
KEA installed digital governors and capacitor banks at Terror Lake. The project intends to have the hydro work as a “battery” where the lake behind the dam stores excess wind power. After a year of successful operation, the three turbines have helped KEA avoid burning 930,000 gallons of diesel, and save more than $1 million. The project has a total capacity of 4.5 MW, about 25% of KEA’s peak load. Island residents are now more than pleased to get about 80% of their power from hydro, 9% from wind, and 11% from diesel. “Community support has been incredibly positive,” Scott says. The utility even won an award for the project, having been named the 2009 Wind Cooperative of the Year by the U.S. Department of Energy.
“We were definitely nervous going into the project,” Scott admits, “but seeing it work gives us a lot more confidence looking ahead.” KEA plans to expand the project by adding three more turbines by 2013, and hopes the installation will encourage other wind projects in Alaska.