Homer Electric Assoc-iation generates 91 percent of its energy from natural gas. But as natural gas availability and prices can fluctuate, HEA has decided that 91 percent is too big an egg to lie in that one basket. So it has set an ambitious goal — increase the amount of power generation from renewable sources to 22 percent by 2018.
“That’s a bit of a stretch goal, and we’ll probably have a tough time reaching that, but we’re working on that and we’re evaluating a number of different potentials,” said Mike Salzetti, who manages fuel supply and renewable energy for HEA, in a presentation to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce last week.
Currently, 9 percent of HEA’s power generation portfolio comes from renewables, from its share of the output of the Bradley Lake hydroelectric facility on the south side of Kachemak Bay. Salzetti said that a couple of options are on the table to grow that percentage. HEA has been working with Ocean Renewable Power Company on a small-scale tidal energy project in Cook Inlet, for instance.
“We’re looking at a couple of other things right now, but right now we’re playing our cards close to vest as we evaluate those projects. I think the key to renewable opportunities is being smart about it. There’s a really big difference between intermittent renewables, such as solar and wind, and baseload-type renewable energy projects, such as hydro, geothermal, landfill gas, those types of things.” Salzetti said.
HEA thinks its smartest bet at the moment is constructing a hydro project at Grant Lake in Moose Pass. The possibility of such a project was investigated in the 1980s, and HEA took renewed interest in the idea in the last decade. After six years of scoping, researching, conducting field studies, data crunching, designing and engineering, HEA expects to submit a draft license application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the end of March.
The plan is to build an intake structure near the outlet of Grant Lake and divert water down 3,200 feet of a 10-foot-diameter, U-shaped tunnel, through a penstock to a powerhouse with two, 2.5-megawatt turbines, then return the water to the stream, with an off-stream detention pond to provide a storage reserve.
The project will involve two miles of road — one mile from the Seward Highway to the powerhouse, and another mile to the intake structure — and one mile of transmission line from the powerhouse to the existing line along the highway. That proximity is one of the big advantages of the project.
“We have a lot of great renewable energy potential projects in the state of Alaska, but they get squashed — the economics of them get squashed — by the fact that they’re 10 miles or 20 miles away from transmission. At roughly $1 million a mile for transmission, on small-scale projects the economics just don’t pencil out,” Salzetti said.