Alaskans Lovin' Wind Power

Alternative energy sources could reduce the costs of electricity in Alaska. (Photo: Joseph [CC by SA-2.0]/Flickr)

Alaska is flush with wind and is starting to tap it.

According to FirstLook, a wind-prospecting tool I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, Alaska is regularly blasted with strong wind currents. The U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory's map rates most of the coast as either Outstanding or Superb.

It's easy to see the attraction wind power has in the great north in the face of $5/gallon gas and $8/gallon heating oil (in some remote villages).

Alaska isn't really known for being filled with greenies. The state that gave us convicted Republican Sen. Ted Stevens is known more for drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Exxon Valdez oil spill and "drill baby drill" than for truly green stewardship of the land and its resources. Alaska's state government relies heavily on oil revenue and its coffers have been hit hard with the downturn in the overall market.

In response, the state has pledged $300 million over the next five years to kick out as grants for local utilities to install renewable energy systems like wind turbines and small hydro.

Alaskans need the help, electricity costs five to 10 times what it costs in the continental U.S. and the small size of the state's population, isolation, and lack of local refineries means every other petroleum-based fuel comes with heavy price premiums.

The cold weather requires that any wind turbines used need to be built specifically for ripping blasts of arctic air, a need that's already being met by Vermont-based Northern Power Systems and their turbine designed to work at the South Pole.

Owing to the state's small population, it's entirely conceivable that they could get all their energy from renewable sources like wind and small hydro in the span of a decade or so. I don't know if a scheme where Alaska was providing energy to the lower 48 makes sense. Advances in efficient long distance transmission lines could put us in technical reach of doing it, but it might not make logistical sense to do anything other than to sell any excess electricity to the nearest markets in Canada.

Via [Smart Power]