Winds of Change Blowing Through Alaska

Wind Turbines in Village in Antarctica Photo

Image: wind turbines in village in Antarctica.

What a differerence a few months can make. The New York Times reports today that in the same way that deserts are considered great areas for renewable energy - wide open, mostly abandoned areas - the frozen, barren landscapes of Alaska are getting a second look as possible homes for wind farms. This is a marked contrast for a state that is known to be oil-loving. But how can renewable energy be competitive in a state that actually gives its residents checks from all of the oil revenues?In the remote areas of Alaska, where power is trucked in via generator at a cost of over $5 a gallon, the prices of renewable are already cost competitive. The state has found that while "oil used to be cheap and convenient, today its just cheap" and that even remote areas that get a portion of their energy subsidized are interested in using renewable energy. While Alaska was raking in oil money, the high cost of diesel and other fuels outweighed the oil boon.

Future Renewable Energy in Alaska

Currently Alaska produces 24% of its power from renewable sources (mostly hydroelectric) and Governor Sarah Palin has promised to bring that number up to 50% by 2025. Over $300 million USD have been promised in the form of renewable energy grants to bring projects to a state of just 670,000 people. Alaska has over half of the US "ocean wave energy resources" and 90% of the US river current and tidal resources.

The turbines, located in areas that will subject them to extreme and harsh weather, will have to be outfitted with "cold-weather engineering," raising installation costs, but this is still cheaper than paying the electricity prices in these remote areas, which can be 5-10 times higher than in the contiguous United States. Wind projects are already up and running in 8 villages, and area planned for 45 others. In addition, an island near Anchorage is being sited for a possible wind farm. Even areas that are the most heavily developed and populated, and have more reasonable electricity prices, are looking into renewable energy to help with both fuel shortages and price spikes.

Another benefit from the turbines: Residents in Toksook Bay, a village with an active wind farm, say that they can see the turbines from 20 miles out at sea and can find their way home.:New York Times
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