In Alaska, Dubie highlights potential of wind turbines

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(Host) Lt. Governor Brian Dubie is on a personal economic development trip to one of the most remote regions of Alaska. He’s there to highlight the potential of a small wind turbine manufactured in Barre.

The turbines are being used to replace diesel-generated electricity in a group of villages that are isolated from Alaska’s main electrical grid system.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Brian Dubie’s mission has taken him to St. Lawrence Island – a spot that’s located far off the northwestern coast of Alaska – it’s actually closer to Russia than it is to the United States:

(Dubie) "Literally you can see Russia ! We saw Russia looking out the window – it’s way out in the Bering Sea."

(Kinzel) At his own expense, Dubie is visiting several small villages that have installed 40 wind turbines built by Northern Power Systems in Barre.

The small scale turbines are known as the NorthWind 100. They’re 120 feet tall, and are rated at 100 kilowatts. Wind conditions on the Island are excellent, so each turbine has the capacity to replace tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel a year.  

Dubie says they’ve been installed primarily in the main part of the villages:

(Dubie) "It’s not a simple as it would be in the lower 48 installation procedure. They actually are installed on permafrost, which requires some real special engineering to develop the foundation for these NorthWind 100s."

(Kinzel) Dubie says his main goal is to showcase the practical applications of these turbines as a way to help expand the workforce at Northern Power Systems:

(Dubie) "There’s 24,000 sites in the lower 48 that have the wind municipal sites at either a school or municipal building."

(Kinzel) Meera Kohler is the president of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative – a non profit group that represents 53 villages.

She says there are two major reasons why her organization is pursuing wind power. One is economics – consumers in the villages are paying, on average, 62 cents per kilowatt hour – that’s roughly 6 times what Vermonters pay. She says the turbines can cut these costs by at least 20%:

(Kohler) "Our villages are very, very small – the average population is about 400 – and they’re completely reliant on diesel for electrical generation. So as a result, if you can imagine when the cost of diesel spiked the cost of electricity went right along with it…so it’s really a huge economic burden to be reliant upon diesel."

(Kinzel) Kohler says the second reason is an effort to reduce the region’s carbon footprint:

(Kohler) "We’ve adopted very aggressive goals to actually reduce our diesel consumption on a statewide basis by 25% and to shut down half of our power plants. So we want to connect villages to each other and we want to put more wind and other alternative energy generation to reduce the reliance on diesel."

(Kinzel) Kohler says village members have also come to Vermont to receive technical training so that the turbines can be properly serviced:

(Kohler) "With the remote communication that we do have with Northern Power, you can have a technician in the field here speaking directly with an engineer in Vermont and with my operations staff in Anchorage and between the 3 of them it’s quite a team – it’s a very successful operation."

(Kinzel) As part of his trip, Dubie also held a town meeting in Fairbanks with Alaska Lt. Governor Craig Campbell on Thursday to discuss alternative energy options for that state.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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