Wind farm proprietor changes plans, sets sights on diversifying, using power on-site

Aug 21, 2012

A year and a half after Golden Valley Electric Association turned down his proposal to sell GVEA up to 24 megawatts of power, Fairbanks entrepreneur Mike Craft is pushing ahead on construction of a second big wind generator at his wind farm near Delta Junction. Craft says he intends to continue selling the utility 1 megawatt and use the rest of the electricity for a big greenhouse he plans to build next summer.

Mike Craft’s business card says he’s the managing partner of Alaska Environmental Power, but last week his title was crew chief and operator of a big excavator that he was using to move a bundle of thick steel reinforcement bars into a big square hole was lined with a cage of welded rebar.
There, they would pour 750 tons of concrete, forming the base of another wind generator.

Workers at Mike Craft's Delta Wind Farm recently completed the foundation for a second 900-kilowatt wind generator. The first 900-kW unit can be seen in the background.
Credit Photo courtesy of Alaska Environmental Power

Craft took a break during a breezy afternoon last week to talk about his latest project at the Delta Wind Farm, a 320-acre parcel located on a ridge just east of Delta.
 “This foundation is 42-by-42 (feet), it’s about 5 feet thick. And it has 350 cubic yards of concrete in it. It has 36,000 pounds of re-bar in it. It’s all steel re-bar,” he said.
Craft and his crew are erecting a 250-foot tower a new 900-kilowatt wind generator near two other big turbines, which generate up to 1 megawatt of electricity that he sells to GVEA. That’s enough to power about 500 average U.S. homes.
Craft had intended to set up 16 more of the big turbines to generate up to 24 megawatts, but GVEA’s board declined the deal early last year. Board members said the utility could produce power more cheaply with its own wind farm that it’s building at Eva Creek, near Healy.
Craft says the decision forced him to cut costs and revamp his plans for what would have been Alaska’s first commercial wind farm.
“They capped us at 2 megawatts. And that’s what made it so difficult for us, because the scale of economies at 2 megawatts is not very strong,” he said. “And if we weren’t out here doing all this work for ourselves we probably wouldn’t be able to move this project forward. It’s kind of like telling somebody they can open a convenience store but they can only sell two cups of coffee a day.”
Craft says despite GVEA’s decision, the Delta Wind Farm has proven itself successful by generating power for more than three years now, which he’s sold to GVEA for just under 13 cents per kilowatt hour. He says the new big wind generator he’s now putting in will enable his company to meet the requirements of an experimental power-sales agreement with the utility.

An aerial view of the 900-kW and 100-kW wind generators and other facilities at the Delta Wind Farm.
Credit Photo courtesy of Alaska Environmental Power

“They developed this 2 megawatt power-sales agreement under an experimental premise, wanting to see if we were going to fry the lines and cause brownouts and cause problems for folks who are near the wind farm on this distribution line that we’re on. And we’ve proven to them that that’s not going to happen.”
Craft says it’s unlikely that GVEA will buy any more of his wind-generated electricity anytime soon, now that the utility set out to build its $90 million facility as Eva Creek. So he’s now working on other plans for the wind farm and the electricity generated there.      
 “What we’re thinking is to go ahead and start consuming some of this power in-house, on-site,” he said. “And the first thing we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be putting in a 10,000-square-foot growing facility for growing lettuce. And our aim is to start satisfy about 5 percent of the lettuce market in Fairbanks.”
That’s the first of several possible enterprises Craft says he has in mind for the property.
“We’ve thought about some other projects – like, for example, a water-bottling plant is under discussion. We’ve also discussed an ice plant.”
Despite the setback with GVEA, Craft says he still believes that wind power is part of an overall strategy that will help wean the industrialized world from its dependence on fossil fuels, such as oil and coal.
He says one of his 1-megawatt turbines can generate enough electricity to displace the use of up to 1,400 gallons of diesel daily. At 4 bucks a gallon, that potentially could save ratepayers some $5,600 a day.