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HEA slowly expanding use of renewables


Renewable sources of energy continue to make more energy for Homer Electric Association.

HEA General Manager Brad Janorschkesays solar, though still a fairly small part of its generation portfolio, is expanding. A utility-scale solar project is going to be constructed next year, producing an additional megawatt of electricity.

“We’ll spend the winter developing the marketing plan such that we can give members an opportunity to purchase power off that facility. Our goal is to have it online maybe within the next 12 months. We’re looking at a project that’s probably just under a megawatt, but remember, it’s nonfirm, because as soon as the clouds go over, the production goes down. The good news is in the summertime when we get the most out of it is, quite frankly, is when we get less production from our natural gas-fired units just because of the natural characteristics of the warmer ambient air and we could use that extra little bit of power.”

Janorschke spoke at a Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday. He says even a small solar venture like this gives the co-op experience with renewable energy technology. The industry term is non-firm, meaning power sources that don’t produce all the time.

“And I think over the next couple years as battery technology evolves, that might be the prime opportunity for us. So if we can get a little leg up on it and stay on top of it, there might be some opportunities," Janorschke said.

Several years ago, HEA partnered with Ocean Renewable Power Company to test the potential for tidal generation in Cook Inlet. Since then, natural gas prices have gone low enough that energy companies aren’t as focused on researching similar alternatives. The tidal project here is mostly on hold for the time being.

“Once you develop a technology, it’s got to compete with existing technologies. Even if you evolve, say, a better tidal unit, that’s going to produce three times the electricity you can today with natural gas, it’s pretty hard to break into the market, or to talk members (into it). Quite frankly, electricity and a lot of utilities are a big portion of their monthly bills. And to ask members to add to that for the long term goal of getting renewables for some members it works and for others, it’s really tough.”

Janorschke also noted that HEA along with other Railbelt utilities and the state is looking into expanding the output of Bradley Lake by adding more water from the surrounding watershed. That could increase power from the state’s largest hydroelectric facility by 10 percent by 2020.