Alaskan communities looking at geothermal for viable power and heating option

Alaskan communities looking at geothermal for viable power and heating option Akutan Harbor, Aleutians, Alaska (source: flickr/ PoweredbyLycoming, creative commons)
Alexander Richter 11 Oct 2011

A recent local conference on rural energy in Alaska, saw many local communities discussing the options of geothermal for power generation and heating, replacing costly diesel power generation.

With the remoteness of many communities in the U.S. state of Alaska, most of them depend on diesel power generation. The high cost of electricity generation, in many cases beyond US$ 40 cents/ kWh or even 66 cents per kWh in Akutan, make those communities look at any opportunity that could bring those costs down.

Geothermal seems to be an option that communities increasingly look at and are planning to utilize for electricity generation and heating. With recent news of the failed attempt by a small local utility at Naknek, Alaska, these communities believe they can learn from existing projects – and mistakes.

At the recent Rural Alaska Energy Conference in Juneau, the director of the University of Alaska’s Center for Power and Energy spoke about the key elements in successful geothermal systems. Temperature, but also flow rate of the reservoir. So while some local hot springs have really high temperatures they might not have the necessary flow rates for an economical project. Transmission is also one of the key elements, the further away from the potential off-taker, industrial or residential, the more costly and likely uneconomical it can be.

A recent radio piece on local station KCAW FM in Alaska, talks about the project at Akutan that looks at utilizing resources on the island for power generation for the local community and seafood plants. There seems to be though an issue with insufficient flow rates, which will have require a different approach, but there is still the belief that a capacity from 15-100 MW in geothermal power generation could be achieved on the island.

The local “city is committed to building an approximately $60 million plant, including about 5 miles of road and transmission lines.”  The economic impact could be tremendous,  bringing down the cost of power generation from currently 66 cents per kWh to about 13 cents/ kWh. With savings of around 50 cents this is potentially a huge deal for this small community and the local businesses, including the large seafood plants by Trident Seafood.

Akutan has already committed $10 million toward the project, seeks another $15 million from government sources and about $45 million in private sector investments.

Another project that was discussed was Pilgrim Hot Springs, near Nome, Alaska. The potential there is about 5 MW, with a cost of anything between $50-115 million. While these are huge sums, with the savings they provide they still could be a viable long-term option replacing expensive diesel power generation.

Chena Hot Spring also was a key example of a successful build-up of a geothermal plant and heating system.

Source: KCAW FM