Altering tides

From probing alternatives to reap tidal vitality in Prepare dinner Inlet, to the set up of Tesla batteries in Soldotna, to curiosity in constructing Alaska’s largest photo voltaic farm, the peninsula has renewable vitality on the mind.

Prepare dinner InletKeeper and the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society on Nov. 15 hosted the primary of their six-part “RePower the Peninsula” collection. The seminars will look at how renewable vitality sources can transfer past what the organizations say is a “monopolized” pure fuel system. A separate seminar, held on Nov. 17, offered the findings of tidal vitality analysis in Prepare dinner Inlet and was hosted by the Renewable Alaska Vitality Mission, or REAP — a nonprofit group with a acknowledged mission of growing renewable vitality and vitality effectivity in Alaska.

Each occasions featured material consultants, and each included Homer Electrical Affiliation’s Director of Strategic Companies David Thomas as a keynote speaker to speak concerning the cooperative’s renewable ambitions. HEA provides vitality to roughly 24,600 clients on the Kenai Peninsula and is actively working to include renewable vitality sources. Among the many acknowledged targets of the RePower collection is to look at “what’s at stake” in HEA’s 2022 election.

An ‘ambitious’ renewables purpose

The Homer Electrical Board of Administrators developed in 2020 a purpose of reaching 50% renewable vitality by 2025, which HEA Director of Strategic Companies David Thomas mentioned is “very ambitious” however aligns with steps HEA is already taking to change into extra renewable.

“It was a shift from what we think we’re probably going to do on the track we’re already on to a much more ambitious and aspirational goal,” Thomas mentioned through the RePower seminar.

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About 86% of HEA’s vitality comes from pure fuel whereas 14% comes from renewable vitality. That features 10% from the cooperative’s Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Plant, close to Homer, and 4% from its Battle Creek Diversion Mission, one other hydroelectric undertaking, Thomas mentioned.

HEA can also be pursuing a hydroelectric undertaking at Grant Lake close to Moose Cross, for which it has already acquired a allow. Development of the 5 MW undertaking would begin in 2023 to be accomplished in 2026 and would generate about 18,600 megawatt hours of vitality yearly.

That’s along with a battery vitality storage system, or BESS, that HEA charged for the primary time final week and can present stability to the corporate’s vitality system by lowering outages. BESS consists of 37 modular batteries, made by Tesla, saved in containers referred to as megapacks, that are able to storing 93 Megawatt hours {of electrical} energy that may be delivered at a fee of 46.5 Megawatts per hour, based on HEA. It’s the biggest chemical battery in Alaska and also will decrease HEA’s greenhouse fuel manufacturing.

“It’s a big battery,” mentioned Seldovia geologist Bretwood Higman through the RePower seminar. “It could power the entire HEA grid for … an hour and a half.”

Location, location, location

Whether or not or not a renewable vitality undertaking turns into a actuality, Thomas mentioned, largely comes all the way down to the place the undertaking is situated. Proximity to current infrastructure like roads and transmission traces is usually make-or-break for a renewables undertaking.

“Where those things — the resource, the transmission, the road infrastructure — come together is where you can make a project happen that otherwise might not pencil out when $50 or $100 million evaporates into infrastructure,” Thomas mentioned.

There are additionally distinctive challenges that include incorporating renewable vitality. With pure fuel, Thomas mentioned, HEA is ready to flip a dial to verify the quantity of vitality being provided matches the quantity being utilized by clients. Renewable vitality sources don’t include a dial and are much less predictable.

“There are a lot of pieces that go into meeting this minute-by-minute demand of all of our members,” Thomas mentioned. “Dispatchable power — although it’s a big expensive dam or it’s a fossil fuel with all of its downside — is the most flexible. Wind and solar are the least and tidal is in between because of that predictability.”

Nonetheless, many say there’s a compelling financial argument to be made for the incorporation of renewable vitality. Ben Boettger, of Prepare dinner InletKeeper, says that along with dangerous air pollution, pure fuel on the peninsula is a monopolized market that noticed costs improve within the early 2000s, when main fuel fields began to change into “depleted.” Regardless of efforts to stabilize the market, Boettger mentioned, the value of fuel in Alaska is now akin to that of fuel within the Decrease 48.

“The Alaska Department of Natural Resources estimated that there are about five to eight years of supply at current consumption rates and that companies could break even by selling it for $8 per 1,000 cubic feet,” Boettger mentioned. “Beyond that, prices would have to rise about 50% in order to break even for extracting the next eight to 11 years of supply.”

That’s in comparison with vitality turbines like HEA’s Bradley Lake Hydroelectric Plan, which Higman mentioned is at present the peninsula’s most cost-effective vitality supply.

“Hydropower from Bradley has actually decreased in cost over time,” Higman mentioned. “Most of this is actually due to inflation: the costs have been fairly flat, but the dollar’s worth less over time so it’s become cheaper. Natural gas, on the other hand, has increased at a rate that would be fairly satisfying if it was an investment — over 5% per year increase over this long term here. It’s been a long time since gas was a cheaper way to generate electricity than hydropower.”

Rivers and lakes are not the one locations individuals are working to show water into energy. Curiosity is rising within the vitality potential of Prepare dinner Inlet’s robust tides.

Turning tides

Prepare dinner Inlet’s robust currents aren’t information to peninsula locals, however a brand new research performed by the Nationwide Renewable Vitality Laboratory, or NREL, over the summer season confirmed that these currents make the area a robust candidate for pilot tidal vitality initiatives.

Levi Kilcher, a researcher with NREL, mentioned throughout Wednesday’s REAP seminar that the harvest of renewable vitality from Prepare dinner Inlet’s tides is one in every of many marine initiatives the lab is in Alaska. The lab works underneath the U.S. Division of Vitality’s Workplace of Vitality Effectivity and Renewable Vitality and is operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Vitality LLC.

Virtually half of america marine vitality sources, Kilcher mentioned, are in Alaska. Prepare dinner Inlet alone accounts for greater than 30%. Marine vitality refers to wave vitality, tidal vitality, ocean foreign money vitality, thermal vitality and river present vitality.

NREL’s analysis group was concentrated principally in Nikiski, but additionally minimize forwards and backwards throughout the inlet to take measurements. Kilcher mentioned the ensuing information affirm that Prepare dinner Inlet has a variety of potential to be a tidal vitality behemoth.

As a part of the research, NREL deployed mooring programs throughout July and August off the shores of Nikiski the place the land juts out into the inlet. The programs included two mid-water mooring programs and one on the ground of the inlet, all of which gathered information on each the speed and turbulence of Prepare dinner Inlet’s tides.

Velocity refers back to the fee at which one thing adjustments its place and within the context of the analysis determines the quantity of vitality that may be generated on the website. Turbulence readings are used to tell the design of know-how so it is ready to stand up to it.

“What we see is really strong currents at this site,” Kilcher mentioned.

Prepare dinner Inlet flows in two instructions north to Anchorage throughout peak flood and south towards Homer throughout ebbs. Peak flood currents persistently measured as transferring greater than three meters per second and slack currents had been nonetheless “very strong,” Kilcher mentioned.

In NREL documentation explaining the analysis undertaking, it’s defined that locations the place shoreline “pinches” the circulation of water produce quick tidal currents, which might be transformed into vitality. That’s true in Prepare dinner Inlet, the place NREL finds that water circulation accelerates because it strikes between the east and west forelands — between Nikiski and the adjoining land throughout the inlet.

“Just in this little section of Cook Inlet, there’s a potential for like 100 MW of so based on these volume flux calculations,” Kilcher mentioned.

Tidal vitality know-how has already been examined in different components of the nation, reminiscent of in Igiugig, Alaska, the place Ocean Renewable Energy Firm’s RivGen pumped 26.5 MWh of energy to the neighborhood, and in New York Metropolis, the place Verdant Energy’s Gen 5 Turbine and TriFrame put 310 MWh into the town’s electrical grid.

“Alaska, I think, has an opportunity to play a role at this early stage,” Kilcher mentioned. “Maybe in the future we can show other countries and other parts of the world how to do this right.”

On the horizon

The seminars got here roughly a month after Renewable IPP, an organization that develops, constructs and operates utility-scale photo voltaic farms, pitched the event of Alaska’s largest photo voltaic farm on the Kenai Peninsula to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Meeting. The 60,000-panel farm can be able to powering 4,500 properties, Renewable IPP CEO Jenn Miller instructed the meeting, however would promote vitality on to HEA to decrease vitality prices for all clients.

The corporate has requested that the borough exempt them from property taxes on the undertaking’s capital belongings. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce — who mentioned he helps the event of photo voltaic farms in Alaska — questioned easy methods to promote the undertaking to borough taxpayers.

The photo voltaic farm would bump HEA’s renewable share to 24% and that attending to the purpose of fifty% would take a equally giant undertaking. Thomas mentioned tidal vitality is past the scope of HEA’s 2025 purpose.

Marathon Petroleum additionally introduced earlier this month that it was in “advanced discussions” with a number of events concerning the sale of their Nikiski plant as a part of the corporate’s efforts to pivot some operations to changing into extra environmentally pleasant. Marathon has a acknowledged purpose of lowering direct and oblique greenhouse fuel emissions depth 30% beneath 2014 ranges by 2030.

The corporate already ceased crude oil processing at three amenities over the previous 12 months, one in every of which was transformed to a renewable diesel facility.

The REAP and RePower the Peninsula seminars might be seen on YouTube.

Attain reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at

Correction: This story has been up to date to say that HEA’s Grant Lake hydroelectric undertaking would have a capability of 5 megawatts and to say that transmission traces are necessary infrastrucuture for renewables initiatives.

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