Alaska Becoming Fertile Ground for Green Power
With its windy coasts, untapped rivers and huge tidal and wave resources, Alaska can quickly become a national leader in producing alternative energy. Although Alaska is the second-largest oil producing state in the country, the citizens have had to pay very high electricity bills recently; oil is no longer easily available for producing and generating power.
There was a time when the Alaskans used to be very skeptical about anything sounding like environmentally friendly or alternative fuels but the outlook is changing rapidly with people realizing that producing nonpolluting energy is much cheaper than extracting oil, and this is the primary reason why they are considering the alternatives. Compared to wind energy it costs more to run power generators with diesel. Another factor that makes alternative energy sources a viable option is that most of the oil produced in Alaska is sold outside of the state. Yet another factor that makes the Alaskans more sensitive and receptive towards environmentally friendly fuels now is most of the impact of global warming is being borne by regions like Alaska.
The icy winds of Alaska are now rotating windmills to bring warmth to people’s homes.
The importance being given to alternative energy sources can be gauged from the fact that the State government last year pledged $300,000,000 for the next five years in the form of grants to utilities, independent power producers or local governments, for producing clean energy for a population of only 670,000 residents.
“Oil used to be cheap and convenient,” said Steve Haagenson, appointed last year by Governor Palin as statewide energy coordinator. “Today, it’s just convenient.”
Alaska is already generating 24% of its electricity from renewable sources. Ms. Palin announced last month that the state will be producing 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. She is well aware of the fact that the sudden plunge in oil prices is a temporary phase. “Today’s current low oil prices should not lull Alaskans into a false sense of security, as if these low prices are going to last,” she said.
It was the Kotzebue Electric Association in northwest Alaska that first demonstrated the value of utility-scale wind power in Alaska back in 1997. 9 more rural communities have added turbines since then, and more than a dozen projects are in the pipeline.
Northern Power Systems, a small turbine manufacturer in Barre, Vt., has capitalized on Alaska’s new interest in wind. According to a state review finalized in 2008 wind power was technically and most likely economically feasible in more than 100 Alaska villages, says Martina Dabo, who oversees wind power programs at the Alaska Energy Authority, a public corporation whose primary objective is to reduce the amount of money spent on generating power.
Hence Northern Power Systems initially designed its 100-kilowatt turbine for operation at the South Pole, not a huge market. “We said, ‘Hey, there’s a market in Alaska – let’s go after it,’ ” said Brett Pingree, the company’s vice president for sales.
And now Northern Power is working on turbines in 8 Alaskan villages, including Toksook Bay, and is working on projects in 45 others.
Alaska has an extremely inhospitable terrain and it is often very difficult to work on development projects in the state. Still, there is a great potential for developing vast and diverse renewable sources of energy, compared to other states in America. According to Roger Bedard of the Electric Power Research Institute, Alaska has more than half the country’s ocean wave energy resources and more than 90 percent of its river current and tidal resources.