State agency recommends funding for 27 renewable-energy projects
Alaska Energy Authority, advisory committee review projects for grants through state Renewable Energy Fund
The Alaska Energy Authority has recommended that the state provide more than $25 million to help develop 27 proposed renewable-energy projects around the state. They include a Golden Valley Electric Association request for funding for meteorological studies around Murphy Dome, where a developer is considering building a large-scale wind farm.
Alaska Energy Authority officials announced Monday that they’ve completed a months-long evaluation of the 27 projects that propose to harness wind, solar, hydro or geothermal energy to generate electricity for communities along the Railbelt and elsewhere around the state.
“We look at the long-term economics of the project,” says AEA Executive Director Curtis Thayer. “We look at the technical viability of the project. The technology being used …”
Thayer says the agency’s experts also considered the location of the proposed projects and various studies that’ve been conducted on them so far.
“So it goes through a pretty rigorous testing, to determine what is a viable project,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Thayer says they submitted their findings to an advisory committee that oversees the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, or REF. And a nine-member advisory committee unanimously recommended that the Legislature appropriate a total of $25,250,000.
“And then the Legislature, at the end of the day, makes the ultimate choice and decided to fund or not fund,” he said. The 27 projects, proposed by utilities, communities, tribal organizations and other entities, were part of the 15th round of REF funding conducted since state lawmakers established the program in 2008.
One of the projects the Legislature approved last year was a request by Golden Valley Electric Association for a $900,000 grant to erect three 200-foot towers in the Shovel Creek area west of Fairbanks, with instrumentation that would monitor the area’s winds.
“So the data that is collected will be used to assess a potential location for a future large-scale wind farm,” says Meadow Bailey, Golden Valley’s spokesperson. Bailey says the studies will help the co-op decide whether to support the project, which would be by far the state’s biggest wind farm.
“We’re looking at approximately 100 megawatts,” she said. “That would be able to produce enough renewable energy to be used throughout the Railbelt.”
But Bailey says more data is needed before the utility’s board would decide whether to give the developer the go-ahead on the project. That’s why the co-op asked the Alaska Energy Authority for an additional $250,000 grant this year to equip the towers with a LIDAR system that uses lasers to precisely measure the wind regime.
“So this’ll really be used to supplement and improve the accuracy of the data that’s being collected over multiple years,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
The 100-megawatt wind farm was proposed by Fairbanks-based Alaska Renewables -- which has requested its own $2 million grant from AEA this year to study utility-scale wind projects. And Palmer-based Matanuska Electric Association has asked for $1.8 million grant for a Railbelt wind-feasibility study to add to its portfolio of renewables that includes the state’s biggest solar farms.
Thayer says there’s even more interest in this round of recommendations in solar and hydro energy.
“Now we have two solar projects in the Valley that are successful, and some of the communities in rural Alaska are looking at it,” he said. “And then, there’s just a lot of opportunity for hydro-- and hydro, at the end of the day, is the cheapest power.”
The advisory committee recommended several hydro projects for Renewable Energy Funding, including one from Juneau-based Inside Passage Electric Cooperative, which seeks this round’s largest grant of $3.5 million.
Other utilities have asked for grants to fund studies of hydro projects near Seward and at Chignik and Adak. Two others are seeking grants for geothermal projects along Cook Inlet. And another would be used to study a project that would generate power with tidal waves in Turnagain Arm.
“Now, if the Legislature was to come back and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to give you the 25-point-five,’ ” Thayer said. “ ‘We’re going to give you 20 million or 15 million.’ Then obviously, we’re going to back those project costs down.”
Thayer says the grants are intended to supplement project funding, for studies or to qualify for a state or federal match. He says whatever amount the Legislature decides to appropriate will become available soon after the new fiscal year begins on July 1st.