By ALEX GIMARC
The August issue of the Chugach Outlet notified the Chugach Electric Association membership that studies are under way for renewable energy projects.
The lead article noted that Chugach issued request for proposals seeking projects that could provide at least 100,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy per year.
They selected a pair of projects, a 122-megawatt wind farm west of Mount Susitna and a 120- megawatt solar farm near Point MacKenzie. There is a third 500-kilowatt solar project on Chugach property in Anchorage that is also being studied.
Each of the projects would provide two to four times the desired renewable power, something the new Chugach Electric Association board majority believes they need for their renewable portfolio.
The studies are supposed to determine grid impact, integration costs, and economic impact to the system. Note that The Outlet piece does not mention cost of any of these proposals. Apparently, they are free.
The problem with free stuff, as every single man has learned with varying levels of pain at a young age is that the free stuff is often the very most expensive stuff. And Biden Administration funded renewables will be very, very expensive to Chugach members, most likely in sharp increases in monthly electric costs and sharp decreases in overall system reliability. Yes, this means blackouts.
Chugach’s most recent dalliance with renewables was the 18-megawatt Fire Island Wind farm which came online in 2012. For several years, its real time output was visible on the Chugach website and its additional costs were broken out on our monthly bills.
But over the last 11 years that has gone away, likely due to the complexity associated with the merger with ML&P. Rates are detailed in a complex document called the Electric Service Tariff.
Chugach reports that Fire Island produces about 30% of its rated output. In contrast, its hydro and natural gas generation runs in the 90 – 95% range.
This variability is a critical feature of proposed renewables and leads to all sorts of integration problems. The more renewables there are, the more difficult it is to keep the electricity in the system at constant levels. In places like California and Texas, with high penetration of renewables into their grids, this variability has led to system instability and blackouts at the most inopportune times.
Depending on whose bogus numbers you believe, somewhere between 10 – 30% of renewable penetration into any electric system renders the system unstable.
Given that the Railbelt is around 850 megawatts, that number is 85-255 megawatts, so use 20%, 170 megawatts as a ceiling, with smaller being better for keeping the lights on. And the Chugach Board is toying with bringing more than that online to meet some sort of carbon free or renewable portfolio requirement.
Renewable advocates, like the ones recently elected to the Chugach Board, are very good at pointing to the shiny object of carbon-free future, zero emissions, and renewable portfolio standards as rationale for their lofty promises.
The problem is while the feds can provide free money for new renewable installations, they never provide any money for storage or integration. And storage is the most important part or renewables, as it smooths out the highly variable output of the renewable systems. Storage for a renewable generation plant is as expensive as the renewable power plant.
Instead, the advocates simply dump the variable output into the grid hoping it will all sort itself out via operational magic done throttling the output of existing generation, hydro and natural gas-fired turbines here in the Railbelt.
Clearly, this is all in the early stages. But if we have learned anything about renewables here and in the Lower 48 it is the following:
- They are always more expensive for the consumer.
- They are destructive to the environment (large physical footprint, windmill destruction of birds).
- The more of them we use, the less stable it will make the overall grid.
- Storage is never included.
- Existing CO2 powered generation is rarely retired (in the US), as it is needed for backup when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
Given that thanks to the Left, we have transitioned into a low- to no-trust society, I would suggest that the time of “trust me” for these sorts of promises is long past. And if the Chugach Board isn’t answering obvious questions or holding public discussions with a complete array of supporting data and public information, it is because they don’t want you to know.
I will follow this as it proceeds, writing from time to time as we find out more. Meanwhile, I will also be looking for a propane / natural gas-fired home generator, as cold and dark seems to be in our not-so-distant future if this board majority gets what they want.
Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.