KEA’s Wind Farm to Grow

By Seth Kantner

With thirteen wind turbines on-line, Kotzebue Electric is not looking back. Three more Entegrity Wind Systems generators are on the way north, according to General Manager Brad Reeve. Delivery is scheduled for December; installation for March and April 2006.

Once constructed, installed and on-line, this addition to the KEA wind farm would increase the “penetration” by non-diesel generation to a potential maximum of 50 percent, according to Matt Bergan, KEA engineer. Penetration, in this case, refers to kilowatt output from wind versus the amount produced by burning diesel.

The price tag? Somewhere in the vicinity of $140,000 each, delivered, according to Bergan. The price of steel, transportation, and production have all risen with the cost of oil. KEA is facing these increased costs, while also being critically aware that the cost of making electricity by burning oil is rapidly rising too.

The turbines and steel towers will be barged to Anchorage and shipped by cargo plane to Kotzebue – space available – to save money on freight. Bergan plans to assemble the towers into four, 20-foot sections inside the power plant during January and February. Workers will then truck the blades, turbines and steel lattice towers to the wind farm located four miles from Kotzebue on an area of wind-swept tundra leased from KIC (Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation.)

“March and April,” Bergan says, “that’s the best time to be messing around out here. The ground’s nice and frozen. Snow cover.” He’s referring to the sensitivity of arctic vegetation to long-term damage by heavy equipment, and to KEA’s commitment to keeping this “clean” source of energy also an environmentally responsible one.

Kotzebue Electric’s wind project is the largest in the state of Alaska, and has received national attention – and awards – for its design and high percentage of power provided to this community. KEA also works region-wide and beyond, building and maintaining wind generation systems in remote villages. Their joint project with the community of Wales is presently the only site in the nation where 100 percent penetration of wind power has been achieved – an entire village powered by wind.

Both Reeve and Bergan continue looking to the future. New “giant” wind turbines are being manufactured. In the Lower 48 and in Europe, wind farms are being built offshore because of land constraints. The cost of putting in undersea foundations is so high, according to Reeve, that wind turbine designers are building bigger – huge machines with the ability to produce five megawatts each.

Machines like those – with 250-foot blades and massive turbines – are being erected on the east and west coast of the United States, but are not presently feasible in the arctic, according to Reeve. “No crane exists in Alaska large enough to lift these.”

With this round of tower-raising, KEA will continue experimenting, as always, working to cut costs and increase efficiency. They will try a new foundation – large screws instead of pilings – and plan to winch the towers up instead of using a crane. By early spring KEA’s wind site will be capable of providing 1.5 million kilowatts of power to the community.