This is the first in a two-part series looking at the Eva Creek Wind Farm. Part two, which will be published Tuesday, will examine how the wind farm is changing the tiny community of Ferry.
FERRY, Alaska — The 24-megawatt Eva Creek Wind Farm not far from this small neighborhood off the Parks Highway north of Healy is on time, on budget and should be ready to go online in October.
A busload of dignitaries drove to the site last week to dedicate the $93 million project. There was even a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Golden Valley Electric Association board members, legislators, project partners and media representatives visited the remote site 14 miles north of Healy and at the top of the 10-mile Ferry mining road.
The group of more than 50 people got a first-hand look at the challenging logistics involved in building what is the largest wind project in Alaska: 12 turbines that GVEA says will provide enough renewable energy annually to power more than 9,100 Interior Alaska homes each year.
That doesn’t mean rates will go down on monthly bills, however. But it is a step toward GVEA’s Renewable Energy Pledge to “kick the oil habit,” as a GVEA flier proclaims, by providing 20 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2014. The savings to members will occur over time.
“The cost of diesel might go up, but the cost of wind won’t go up any,” GVEA board chairman Bill Nordmark said.
Winds of change
The GVEA board approved the Eva Creek Wind Farm in June 2011, and the project began to take shape just a few months later.
It turned the remote community of Ferry — population 30 to 35 people — into a bustling industrial area with a workforce of about 200 people.
Consequently, dignitaries on last week’s trip had to walk past a few unhappy local residents at the Ferry Bridge. One displayed several protest signs.
The old mining road is now a wide, gravel highway, constructed by Brice Inc.
“A lot of infrastructure had to be built,” said Greg Wyman, the project manager. “Everything came across the railroad tracks on the bridge.”
“It’s really remarkable,” he said.
Workers removed 200,000 yards of material that went into making concrete. They drilled five wells to provide the water for that concrete and for dust control on the road.
Cory Borgeson, president and CEO of GVEA, called the project “phenomenal” and praised a long list of partner companies, including general contractor Michels Wind Energy and the turbine supplier, REpower Systems, SE.
“It’s a tribute to what people together can do,” he said. “This project is virtually on time, on budget.”
The budget included $11.4 million in state appropriations and an estimated $80 million loan through a Federal Clean Renewable Energy Bond at less than 2 percent interest.
“That makes the project very doable,” Nordmark said.
According to GVEA, operating costs are estimated at $1.5 million annually.
Together, the turbines should produce about 24 megawatts of power, which translates to 77 million kilowatt-hours per year, GVEA spokeswoman Cassandra Cerny said.
Round they go
The site itself is vast and grand, with amazing views in all directions, particularly on the day dignitaries visited.
It also was windy, which of course, is the point.
A meteorological station provided wind data for that area when the project was being considered. Winds were recorded at speeds reaching 54 mph.
“Fifty-four miles per hour is a pretty heavy wind,” Nordmark said.
Each turbine is 410 feet tall, dwarfing semi-tractor trailers that drive by.
The towers have three sections that were bolted together on site and lifted into place by a crane that was shipped to Alaska from Wisconsin and assembled from 23 pieces.
The rotating blades are 147 feet long. They were shipped to Whittier and transported by rail to Healy.
When the blades begin to turn, it will be at an initial speed of about 12 mph and eventually an optimal speed of 24 mph.
The turbines are designed to shut down when winds hit 54 mph. That concerns critics, who say winds at the site often blow stronger than that.
The units will be monitored from afar, both in Fairbanks and by the manufacturers in Germany.
“These are probably the finest instruments in the world,” Nordmark said. “They are specially designed for cold weather and our site.”
The turbines operate in severe cold, shutting down only when the temperature sinks to about 30 to 35 degrees below zero.
Visitors on last week’s tour got to step inside a turbine’s interior, which is a cylinder of wiring and tubing and electronics that make the system operational. The system cools the electronics in the summer and warms it up in the winter.
Once the project is online, a staff of fewer than 10 people will monitor the equipment and keep the road to the site open.