Last year as the merits of natural gas coming to Homer were discussed, there were a couple of recurring questions: Why aren't we talking about renewable energy? Wouldn't an investment in renewable energy be better for residents and the planet?
With gas getting closer to being a reality in Homer every day, it's important to note lots of work is — and has been — happening in the area of renewable energy on lots of fronts. Natural gas is a cleaner, cheaper alternative than what most Homer residents are currently using. It's also a bridge until it's practical for renewable projects come on line.
Here's a short list that serves as a reminder that renewable energy is far from forgotten:
• The idea of a commonly owned energy project has been discussed by the Homer Electric Association board of directors. Earlier this year, HEA conducted a survey to gauge interest in the concept and to keep the discussion open. The idea is that a group of members would share in the cost and construction of a project, such as a wind turbine or solar panel array, that would generate power to be sold back to HEA. Revenue from the sale of energy would be shared among the owners based on the amount of their investments.
While HEA is focusing its efforts on completing its two generation projects currently under construction as part of the Independent Light Program, it could be in the future the cooperative will turn its attention to projects like a commonly owned renewable energy venture with members. HEA members interested in such opportunities should start that discussion with board members now.
• There's no doubt that HEA members are interested in renewable energy and are doing projects on their own. Since HEA implemented net metering back in 2010, the number of member-owned projects has grown from just a handful to almost 60 — 25 solar and 32 wind projects, according to numbers provided last month. The number of kilowatt hours generated by these projects has soared: 1,065kw in 2008, 11,114 in 2009, 36,767 in 2010, 58,173 in 2011 to 111, 423 last year.
• HEA also is continuing the work required to get a federal permit for its Grant Lake hydro project; field studies currently are under way. In addition, HEA continues working with Ocean Renewable Power Co. on a tidal project in Cook Inlet at the East Forelands.
• There are other projects happening as well: University of Alaska Anchorage engineering students are using Homer's Deep Water Dock to measure and evaluate tidal energy. It's an "incubator project," giving researchers a place to try out an idea and test it on a small scale. One group of Homer students who participated in the Rotary Global Peace Forum in Honolulu in January promoted peace through the use of tidal generators.
• In September, all 11 wind turbines on Fire Island began generating power for Southcentral Alaska.
The fact is renewable energy projects are happening all around, but natural gas will help bridge the gap between now and the not-too-distant future of renewables.