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Considering Wind Energy, Unalaska Installs Towers To Collect Data And Determine Feasibility

Hope McKenney/KUCB

The City of Unalaska finished installing the last of four meteorological (MET) towers over the summer. Their purpose is to help the city determine whether Unalaska can produce electricity from wind energy in the future.

The towers are installed at four locations: one on Bunker Hill, another two in Pyramid Valley by Icy Creek and Veronica Lake, and a final one on Hog Island.

The wind development project is led by Unalaska's Department of Public Works, and it's one of seven initiatives underway with its electric fund.

Public Works Director Tom Cohenour said there are four phases to the $420,000 project.  

"Currently, we're in phase three, which is data collection," said Cohenour. "All four of the towers are up now, and they're transmitting data. Some of them are having some technical difficulties because the weather around here can be really hard on equipment."

Credit Hope McKenney/KUCB
A 60-meter tower was installed on Unalaska's Hog Island in August.

To determine if a wind farm is feasible, Cohenour said the towers will collect data on wind characteristics — including turbulence, speed, seasonal variation, and direction — for 18 to 24 months. After that, the city will decide whether to proceed with alternative energy.  

"We don't know what the dollar amount would be if we actually put up wind generators," said Cohenour. "Part of the study is to help us design what size and where to place actual wind turbines." 

Preliminary data indicate the Pyramid Valley tower near Veronica Lake might be the best location for a farm. So far, Cohenour said that spot has the most consistent wind speed and direction. 

It's still unclear how a wind farm would stack up to the island's diesel powerhouse, which has been its only electricity provider since World War II.

While Cohenour doesn't think Unalaska will ever see free energy because of the expense of maintaining wind generators or solar collectors, he said the goal of the project is to reduce energy costs substantially for the city, residents, and businesses.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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