Alaska village wind farm to save 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year

The following article is one in a series of case studies to be included in AWEA’s upcoming Small Wind Turbine Market Report Year End 2011, which will be published soon.

Despite the severe climate, the warming tundra, rising energy prices, and moving into the cash economy, life in rural Alaska continues. Traditional ways of life in rural Alaska remain strong as the indigenous people continue whaling, commercial and subsistence fishing, hunting and trapping as their ancestors have done before them.

As part of the villages’ economies, autonomous wind-diesel systems are helping to stabilize energy prices and reduce diesel fuel consumption in many rural Alaskan villages. In 2011, the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, Inc. (AVEC) installed four Northern Power 100-kW turbines in Emmonak and constructed a 10-mile intertie to Alakanuk. With a combined population of 1,460, the primarily Yup’ik Eskimo villages are located at the mouth of the Yukon River in western Alaska.

Residents are expected to see the full benefit of wind turbine technology when the crews finalize the necessary upgrades to the old control technology in the existing Emmonak AVEC power plant. Planned improvements will be completed in 2012 and are expected to save 60,000 gallons per year of diesel at more than $4 per gallon. Additionally, excess wind power generation contributes heat to a local recovered heat system that displaces fuel needed at the local water treatment plant.

Like most Alaskan villages, Emmonak and Alakanuk have winter peaking loads, primarily driven by the school, the water/sewage system, and homes, matching nicely with the robust winter wind resource. However, in summer, fish processing requires commercial-scale cooling and ice-making, somewhat offsetting the winter loads. Engineering the 60-foot steel pilings with a prefabricated concrete sectional foundation for each turbine to dampen vibrations was a necessary innovation to deal with difficult geotechnical and logistical conditions.

The project was financed by a combination of the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund and AVEC’s internal construction capital. When electricity costs more than $.50/kWh, the “free” fuel from the wind turbines is a welcome, stabilizing alternative to diesel. The four wind turbines at Emmonak bring AVEC’s fleet to 34 wind turbines at 11 sites, serving 15 villages. AVEC was recognized by Wind Powering America with its wind pioneer award in 2008.

By Ruth Baranowski, Consultant,