Wind energy regulations discussed by Bethel City Council

by Mark Arehart on January 26, 2012

Can the city change state laws allowing them to pursue wind energy? That’s the question the Bethel City Council discussed at its last regular meeting. Wind energy has been discussed in Bethel for years. The topic has broached the city council on several occasions, ultimately stalling each time. The city has been approved to receive $3 million in grants to pursue the new form of power, but regulations are holding things up.

The city has long pursued the prospect of wind turbines powering city buildings, but the Alaska Energy Authority says bringing wind power to Bethel isn’t as easy as just putting up a turbine.

“In my years of dealing with Alaska Energy Authority and the regulations that they deal with, they told me ‘No’, 100% of the energy must be produced and sold to the utility,” City of Bethel Grant Manager John Sargent said.

Bethel Utility Corporation is the city’s power utility, who has said their equipment is too old to accept any wind tie in. State regulations require that any wind turbine or turbines the city builds would have to plug into BUC’s power grid supplying the region with power, not just specific buildings. So, the city cannot put a wind turbine on just one of their buildings to save money.

Even though there could be a wind turbine built close to Bethel, that power would have to flow into the utility grid. The city would have to use BUC for back-up power, no matter what.

“I suspect it’s very difficult because I’ve gotten ‘No’ every time I’ve inquired about this over the last four years. I have a copy of the 23 pages of the regulations, so I’m looking at those and getting a better feel for it. It looks like it’s right off the state statutes. I don’t know if takes a legislative action or the governor. But I can find out,” Sargent said.

The city manager, Lee Foley, fully supports finding an answer to the question. “We would be doing something toward trying to getting committed to getting wind energy in Bethel,” he said.

For now, the city council is pursuing answers, and we’ll just have to wait.

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