Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 3:58 PM on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Renewable energy use grows on Kenai Peninsula



By Dan Schwartz
Morris News Service - Alaska

Production and use of renewable energy sources on the Kenai Peninsula such as solar panels and wind turbines has increased at a surprising rate, local utility officials said.

The idea is catching on for several reasons, residents said — it's green, practical and the price, compared to other sources, is relatively stable.

Brad Hibberd, Homer Electric Association systems engineer, said 54 homes and businesses have installed solar panels or wind turbines, as they adopted HEA's net metering program since October 2008. The growing program allows members to generate and consume electricity from their solar or wind units to offset — but not terminate — their dependency of HEA's grid.

This is called co-generation.

Kasilof resident Anthony Lopez said he generates a surplus of electricity in the summer, and HEA buys the excess at wholesale rates.

In the winter, Lopez said his panels produce less than he requires, and HEA covers his remaining need at retail costs.

This process occurs monthly.

Bear Creek Winery co-owner Bill Fry said his business was awarded a USDA grant to fund some of the construction of his wind turbine because it lined up with the winery's green goals.

"We recycle bottles; we use a lot of green products; we reuse our corks; we use as much local product as we can get our hands on," he said.

The initial impetus, he said, was to help one of his employees, Nadia Daggett, start her Alaskan Wind Industries business, which was only in its early stages when she installed Fry's turbine in 2009.

Since then AKWI has installed about 50 other solar and wind units in businesses and homes throughout the peninsula, Daggett said.

However, some co-generators have difficulty producing with the wind turbines, she said. "The winds in the Kenai Peninsula are either hit or miss," she said. "It's either blowing like crazy or just dead still."

That is an issue for Fry.

"Don't get me wrong; on days when it's windy here — if that thing cranks all day — we're a wind-powered winery," he said.

But those days occur only once or twice a month, or less, he said.

Boulder Point residents Gene and Debbi Palm have similar issues with their turbine, though they have more wind and produce more on their property.

Gene's turbine generates a quarter to a third of their electricity consumption on average, and he and his wife do not use natural gas on their property, he said.

"When we have these good north winds and these storms, that's when it's producing; that's when it's pretty happy, and it's humming along getting 6 kilowatts per hour consistently," Gene said. "If you could reliably get that kind of power output, it'd be neat. But it takes a lot of wind to produce that rate of power."

This kind of wind can be found on the Aleutian Islands where Daggett said a lot of wind systems are being installed.

But to capture consistent and substantial wind energy, Daggett said larger turbines are required. And that is becoming more popular as the technology improves, she said.

"Technology's getting better, and also people are wanting to stabilize their energy cost," Daggett said. "HEA, the rates sort of go up and down, and this stabilizes so that they have a constant rate."

And HEA is thrilled with their program's rapid growth.

"HEA is hopeful that net metering will result in even more interest in member-owned renewable energy systems," HEA General Manager Brad Janorschke said in a press release.

Dan Schwartz is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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