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GVEA confident in wind farm project

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Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — Early results from the Eva Creek Wind Power project have been encouraging for Golden Valley Electric Association, with the co-op saying it projects the turbines will save its rate payers about $4 million this year.

The 25-megawatt turbine farm, located near Healy, completed its first full quarter of operation at the end of March. During that span, the $93 million project offset the equivalent of 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel, enough to power more than 11,000 Interior homes for three months.

Those diesel fuel savings are an oversimplification by GVEA, since wind power also offsets other power sources. The utility, however, said the project is making a significant dent in the use of its most expensive fuel source.

“It’s definitely meeting our expectations,” said GVEA spokeswoman Cassandra Cerny.

It’s done that by living up to projections that were made before a dozen 410-foot turbines were erected on a plateau at the top of the Ferry mining road.

GVEA estimated Eva Creek would average 36 percent of its generating capacity, based on wind studies at the site. In January the project was generating at 47 percent of capacity, followed by 41 percent and 37 percent in February and March, respectively.

Those numbers are expected to dip in the next six months, when winds are typically lighter in the area. But Cerny said the results have been solid so far, with “no big surprises” since operations went online and became fully commissioned on Dec. 31.

GVEA figures the project will collectively save its customers about $4 million this year, based on oil selling at $116 per barrel.

It may not be simple for rate payers to decipher those savings on their bill. Customers will see a 2.5 percent hike to their utility charge starting on June 1, which will translate into about a 90 cent increase for the average residential bill. About two-thirds of that hike will go to pay for Eva Creek, Cerny said.

GVEA expects that will be more than offset, however, by an anticipated decrease to the fuel and purchase power charge. Because wind power is replacing the use of oil, the surcharge for using expensive fuel sources is expected to be lower.

Despite that, GVEA isn’t looking to add any more wind power to its mix of energy sources. Cerny said the intermittent nature of wind power requires a secondary power source, such as hydroelectricity, that can adapt almost immediately to fluctuations.

Cerny said a larger wind farm wouldn’t be economical, since it would require a conventional power plant to remain idling in case the wind suddenly dies.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.

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