HEA Continues Work Toward Renewable Energy

     At the end of the year, Homer Electric Association will begin generating all its own power. HEA’s contract to buy electricity from Chugach Electric is up, but the Co-op isn’t done there. Plans are in the early stages for more generating capacity from more renewable resources.

     New or revamped plants in Nikiski and Soldotna are finished, or very near completion. And development of renewable projects keeps moving along. The Nikiski plant, which added a steam turbine to increase the amount of electricity it kicks out, is already online, supplying energy to interior Alaska, says General Manager Brad Janorschke.

     They’re selling that power to the Golden Valley Electric Association until the contract with Chugach expires and we can use that power locally.

     “It allows us about a six month period to have that unit running online, work the bugs out. With any large system it just takes awhile, so we’ve got this six month window where we can’t use (the power) ourselves because we’re obligated to buy from Chugach through 2013. We can still operate it, base-load it and provide that power to the north,” Janorschke said.

     That project ups the green factor of HEA’s operations, increasing output by some forty percent simply by using excess heat to make the power. Another project, further down the time line, seeks to take advantage of the great amount of tidal energy splashing around in Cook Inlet. HEA wants to put in a small pilot project near Nikiski.

     “The nice thing about the Nikiski area is one: you have the Forelands there. But in addition, it’s close to a lot of our transmission and generation infrastructure, which means we’ve got generation folks handy to work on this stuff as it connects to our system,” Janorschke said.

     Ocean Renewable Power Company is who HEA is working with on this project. Earlier this year, they brought the first commercially licensed tidal energy operation online in Maine. The system proposed for Cook Inlet would produce power when the tides turn what are essentially big water wheels. They would be anchored between 50 and 100 feet down. They wouldn’t produce much power to start.

     It would just be a test site to see if a commercial application would even work. Janorschke says the biggest concern with harnessing the tides…What does it mean for fish…has been shown to be not much of a concern at all, really.

     “Is it going to chop fish up? Based on what they’ve seen so far out in Maine, the answer is no. It turns slow enough that fish, generally, if they’re small enough, swim right through it unharmed or the larger fish just swim around it. That’s what they’ve seen so far via cameras and sonar,” Janorschke said.

     Another renewable venture that hasn’t gotten as much attention lately is the proposal for Grant Lake over by Moose Pass. If it’s approved and built, it would generate much less power than the Bradley Lake hydro plant south of Homer. But HEA hasn’t started applying for permits yet. That might be a couple years down the road.

     Janorschke made his comments on last week’s episode of the "Coffee Table," which aired on KDLL and KBBI.