Lawmakers approve money for Nikiski wind farm

Posted: Monday, May 03, 2010

KENAI — The winds blew favorably for Homer Electric Association as the legislative session came to a close last week, but the company will have to hope for more of the same if it is to be granted the $7 million that state lawmakers allotted it for construction of a wind farm in Nikiski.

Within the state capital budget is money for the project, aimed at placing wind turbines along the bluff adjacent to the Agrium plant.

Gov. Sean Parnell still has line item veto power, however, and has said he plans to trim the budget.

Should the funds be granted, HEA will be a figurative guinea pig for testing the incorporation of what are referred to as “non-firm” power sources into the Railbelt energy grid that serves Southcentral and the Interior.

According to Joe Gallagher, spokesman for HEA, the company is negotiating with an independent power producer on a project called Kenai Winds that could generate as much as 14.4 megawatts of electricity, depending on how the winds blow.

A 5-megawatt reciprocating generator, or a battery bank of commensurate energy, would improve HEA’s ability to integrate the windmills into the grid.

Gallagher said the $7 million should cover most of the installation costs.

He called the project “shovel ready” and said the turbines could be online by the end of the year.

Gallagher explained that the Railbelt grid is unique compared to those in the Lower 48 because it’s isolated and serves a relatively light load spread out over a large geographic area.

Much of the grid is powered by natural gas and hydroelectric, which are considered “firm” sources.

Adding wind power, which fluctuates, would change that.

“Nobody knows for sure what it’s going to mean,” Gallagher said. “There will be challenges and opportunities to learn from this project and finding out how it actually works.”

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