August 9, 2012 | Volume XLII Number 32

Meeting tilts against big wind projects

Mayor Stephanie Scott said she was enthused 21 residents turned out Aug. 2 for a meeting on wind power potential in the Chilkat Valley, but she isn’t expecting utility-scale development of the source any time soon.

“I think the sense of the group is that it wasn’t feasible to do this,” Scott said.

Scott paraphrased comments at the meeting by Haines engineer Reuben Loewen, who recently worked as wind program project manager for the Alaska Energy Authority.

“Geography is a serious barrier to utility-scale wind power here. Even though it feels windy, the wind isn’t steady here. You need an average, annual wind speed of 14 mph. To (Loewen’s) knowledge, we don’t have that kind of wind in any location that’s accessible,” Scott said.

In an interview this week, Loewen said there might be locations in the valley that offer such winds, but roads and long transmission lines would add significant costs. “And we haven’t even gotten to the point of asking whether people want to see a big turbine out on the top of Pyramid Island,” he said.

Compared to some other places in Alaska where wind conditions are favorable and a wind project would replace expensive, diesel-generated power, the economic viability of wind is diminished as a supplement to local hydro power, Loewen said. “Our power is expensive, but it’s not outrageous. As a supplement to hydro, it’s harder to justify.”

Loewen, who is writing a memo to the borough on the question, said it’s hard for him to see a viable, utility-scale wind project here, though wind turbines can work great for individuals living off-grid who can store electric in battery banks.

Scott said a recent study has indentified hydroelectric and biomass as the most viable alternatives for energy in Haines.

Residents Michelle LaBrosse and Pat Philpott, each who have examined wind-power projects on their respective private properties, spoke at the meeting. Others in attendance included developer John Floreske, meteorologist Jim Green and planning commissioner Rob Goldberg.

Goldberg was optimistic, saying places along Lynn Canal like Battery Point could work for wind. “We need to collect data. Then we’ll actually know. Let’s get some numbers and find out,” he said this week.

The meeting was billed as informal and aimed at determining whether the Haines Borough should apply to the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund for money for a formal reconnaissance of the wind resource.