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City Boosts Budget For Wind Energy Study By $75K

Hope McKenney/KUCB

The City of Unalaska has approved increasing the budget for the Wind Power Development Project by $75,000.

The city is currently using meteorological (MET) towers to collect data for an energy study that'll determine if Unalaska can produce electricity from wind energy in the future.

Department of Public Works Director Tom Cohenour said the city is in phase three of the four-phase project to determine the best location for a wind farm.

"We consider phase one to be everything that's been done in the past, going back 10 or 15 years," said Cohenour. "There was a previous Public Works director who had done some analysis, and we looked at that data and decided we needed a lot more. So we went into a pre-design and site selection, which was phase two, back in November of 2017. We selected V3 Energy to do our wind study and look at the wind characteristics, which we will have to study for at least 18 to 24 months. And currently we're in phase three, which is data collection."

The city installed four MET towers starting back in 2018, to collect data on things like turbulence, wind speed, seasonal variation, and direction. But already one structure by Pyramid Valley's Icy Creek has been removed after an October wind storm gusted 85 miles per hour and knocked it over.

Cohenour said at a city council meeting last week, that the department didn't account for the amount of weather damage to the towers.

"We were looking for really windy places, and we found them," said Cohenour. "And so what happened was the sheer dynamics of the weather has destroyed these wind generators."

There are currently MET towers at three locations: Hog Island, Veronica Lake, and Bunker Hill.

Credit Hope McKenney/KUCB
Doug Vaught of V3 Energy collects wind data from Hog Island's MET tower on Nov. 21.

The additional $75,000 approved by councilors on Jan. 14 will help cover maintenance and repairs at the sites for the duration of the data collection period. The total budget for the project through the data collection phase is now approximately $495,000.

Officials said if the city decides to pursue a wind farm, the turbines wouldn't be at risk of storm damage. While test towers are light-weight and designed to obtain data as inexpensively as possible, wind turbines are built for the long haul with a concrete foundation.

A number of Alaska communities are having success in incorporating renewable wind energy into their grids, including Kotzebue and Kodiak. The latter city produces nearly 100 percent of its power from renewable sources. 

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

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