News-Miner opinion: Coal remains the cheapest form of energy in the Interior, and as such it is likely to remain king in Golden Valley Electric Association’s energy portfolio for years to come. In fact, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ new coal-fired plant just went online in late August. The newest technologies have improved coal-fired plant efficiency.
And then on Oct. 12, Golden Valley Electric Association held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its first solar array. The 1,760 panels cover a 2 1/2 acre lot off South Cushman Street. It is capable of producing 563 kilowatts, which is enough to power 71 homes using an average of 660 kilowatt hours a month. It is the largest photovoltaic system in the state.
It’s renewable energy. And we could certainly use every bit of it as possible in Fairbanks. Energy is expensive and our air quality is the worst in the nation at times. But the solar array only generates a fraction of 1 percent of Golden Valley’s total energy portfolio. The installation of this solar array may be small but it is encouraging.
Alaska, in many respects, is behind the Lower 48 when it comes to technology and infrastructure. The lack of fiber-optic internet cables within our borough is an example of that. Sometimes Alaskans must wait patiently while their friends and family down south enjoy new technologies. It’s always been that way.
Adding this solar array is encouraging. It is the second green energy project GVEA has completed, the first being the Eva Creek Wind Farm. The inconsistency of renewables remains a problem, though.
“You can’t tell the wind when to blow and the sun when to shine,” said Cory Borgeson, who is GVEA’s chief executive.
Because of that, new battery technology is needed for our electrical grid. New batteries on our grid will allow energy to be stored during the day as solar panels hit their peak efficiency. This will help GVEA regulate a more consistent flow of energy coming from these renewable sources. The challenge is that the new infrastructure costs money. These things take time.
In a relatively recent interview with Alaska’s Energy Desk, Mr. Borgeson said, “There is a drive to reduce CO2 emissions. So how does that affect the future of coal in the Interior and at Golden Valley? I would say if you’re a futurist here and you’re looking at where things are going, you’re going to see a reduction in the production of power from coal.”
How slow or fast our energy shifts toward greener sources depends on many factors. If our dreams of natural gas in the Interior are any indication, this conversion will be slow. We will likely see the energy picture slowly shift toward renewable energy as technology improves and also out of necessity. In the meantime, it’s important to remember that coal has powered this community for decades, keeping costs down in a high-cost, remote area.
Kudos to Golden Valley Electric Association and everyone involved for helping this community take this small step in a green direction.