Yakutat seems to be a thinking town when it comes to a pending energy crisis.
Yakutat, as a community, has had meetings over the last number of years exploring alternative energy sources.
Studies Yakutat has done include: 1) Conservation and upgrades. Better insulation, windows, etc. require less energy.
2) Core Diesel Plant: Decision was to keep the tried and true for the present although it is incredibily expensive. Study explored ways to make it more efficient, but keeping it as a backup allows some experimentation with other energy sources.
3) Local and imported biomass: initially for heating and cooling and if proven effective then used to generate electricity. Biomass includes everything from forest waste to algae harvest.
4) and 5) Proven Solar and Wind generation systems. 6) Green Houses
7) Algae Farms, 8) Seafood Production, 9) Biofuels and numerous other green projects.
When Scott Newlun, general manager of the electrical power plant, proposes his town be a laboratory for alternative energy trials he and the town have credibility.
After much research they have concluded that 10) Atmocean Ocean Power be given the lead. The concept as outlined in previous postings on this blog suggests the cost for the 600 or 700 remaining citizens with their 2.8 megawatt power plant to be in the six to seven million dollar range.
Once up and running the diesel use would go to zero except as an emergency backup.
While the cost to the consumer would go down substantially, it would not go to zero.
Maintenance, distribution, safety, administration, and other costs continue. These are predictable in that they generally just follow the normal inflation rate.
Prices of fuel made from petroleum are the wild card. They are expected to become more unbearable.
Discussing alternative energy becomes very much a comparison of apples to oranges. Difficult at best, impossible if everyone is trying to sell their side of the equation.
We will explore that soon in our look at the latest Fire Island Wind Turbine progress in Anchorage.
Meanwhile, in a second conversation with both Phil Kithil of Atmocean and Scott Newlun of Yakutat Power, Inc. we learn more of the particulars.
Phil wanted to emphasize less the fish habitat improvement of his system and focus more on the current and future power cost savings.
The concept that upwelling brings up ocean floor nutrients to the surface where the sunlight turns it into fish food is positive news. Nature does it occasionally with storms. Phils' Atmocean system claims they can accomplish some of it on a daily basis.
Local energy consultants are generally hopeful of the ocean wave energy capture and conversion into electricity but a bit skeptical of the upwelling effect.
For one thing Yakutat is considered to already enjoy nutrient rich waters and might benefit less than locations with nutrient poor waters.
In any event Phil wants to focus more on the alternative energy aspects of this proposal.
It should be pointed out that there are several competing wave energy companies as there are numerous wind turbine providers. Competition will sort them all out in the end.
Taxpayers have vested interests in getting the best return for their tax dollars. To the portion going to public infrastructure, future energy system advances compete with more traditional expenditures.
One could argue that spending nine or ten thousand dollars per capita in Yakutat is too much. Scott Newlun argues that the laboratory results of Yakutats' experiment will likely help many future Alaskan coastal communities conserve petro fuel.
Indeed, maybe rid them in large part of oil based fuel. How much is that knowledge worth?
Down around a few corners from Yakutat is Gustavus. The 422 residents are getting $13,000,000 of taxpayer money to widen their jet runway. That is 30,000 per person. Gustavus is near Juneau which is also receiving money to upgrade its' runway.
When asked why so much public money to widen the Gustavus runway government officials cited the fact that Alaska Airlines flies there. The airliner says they never asked for the money. And they fly in just once a day and that is only in the summer.
What is the benefit to the taxpayer to spend so much money to widen a little used runway in Gustavus?
Is Scott right when he points out all the significant environmental and financial potential benefit of spending far less in the "Yakutat Experimental Laboratory?"
Converting wave energy, or motion from the ocean, to electricity could potentially benefit nearly every Alaska living within forty miles of the coast.
Fire Island near Anchorage appears poised to begin providing approximately 4% of the electricity Chugach Electric Association sells.
That will come from the first eleven of the proposed thirty three wind turbines built by Cook Inlet Regional Corporation.
We will take a quick look at that along with a less known, but serious, proposal to generate alternative energy from tidal power just off the coast of Fire Island.