Unalaska shelves wind power research

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ANCHORAGE - On paper, Alaska has some of the best potential for wind power in the nation. But in the wind-scoured Aleutian Island city of Unalaska, leaders have stopped studying wind energy as a source of reliable power.

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The problem? The wind is simply too strong.

The Aleutian Islands, called the Birthplace of Winds, would seem like a prime location for turbines to produce the alternative energy.

But the Aleutians' violent, ever-shifting gusts are too strong for the turbine blades, said Chris Hladick, Unalaska city manager, citing a study by a Vermont consultant hired by the city. In November, Hladick returned a $300,000 federal grant to study wind power over a three-year period.

The proposed turbine's 80-foot blades are designed to stop spinning in 60 mph winds so they don't break, however, gusts on the island routinely exceed that limit.

High winds are only part of the problem. The steep mountains clustered around the city of 4,300 cause shifts in wind direction and speed that are dramatic enough to shred windmill blades, according to Hladick.

And several of the level areas suitable for the 165-foot tower are near sites that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers crucial for birds like the Steller's eider, a sea duck protected by the Endangered Species Act. Officials fear that the whirring blades could harm the birds.

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