Robert Seitz: Let’s use positive motivations to encourage renewable additions to power grid

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By ROBERT SEITZ

Senate Bill 101 and House Bill 121, left over from last year are again being touted by those who want to rush into adoption of renewable energy sources whether the Railbelt can properly accommodate them or not.  

Until there is a real plan for the modification of the Railbelt energy system, a RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard) will be of no practical value, and in fact would be quite harmful to the ratepayers for the Railbelt utilities. There needs to be a plan for moving forward and not just some scenarios of possibilities, but with some specific plans for the replacement base source of energy and the particular long term energy storage that would provide storage for all the excess renewable energy generated.   

Please read Rick Whitbeck’s “Red states should run far, far away from Renewable Portfolio Standards” published Jan 31, 2024 in Must Read Alaska.

In consideration of possible energy storage for excess renewable energy, I have been following various studies and reports concerning the Eklutna Lake Hydroelectric project over the last five or six years. I attended one of the recent hearings about the Elune Lake project and was greatly disappointed that no effort was given to the idea put forth by Kerry Williams for the Eklutna Complex to be a Rechargeable Battery, (a hydraulic battery).  

Kerry Williams and his co-authors, Ceal Smith and Bretwood Higman, published a report (Feb 3, 2020) at the request of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, entitled “Pumped Energy Storage for Alaska.”  When I enquired about how the report and concept of the Eklutna complex was accepted, I was told that it was too expensive and there was no current renewable source to run the pump, so it was given no real consideration. 

In my opinion, the Eklutna Lake complex is a much more positive incentive than Susitna Dam could ever be. The Eklutna project could begin storage excess wind and solar energy no matter where on the Railbelt system it might be generated. This would provide good incentive for further wind and solar installation.

The authors of the report laid out a plan so that it would be a four-part project, so that the full expense did not have to be made at the front end of the project.  It should not have to be considered as too expensive, just to study how it could be fit into the overall energy plan for the State. One of the benefits of the proposal is that Eklutna Lake would be able to maintain a higher level than it does now as it would be filled from below by the pump. This might allow the salmon to return to Eklutna Lake, a consideration definitely worth looking at.  

Looking at costs, converting the existing system to pumped energy storage was estimated to be $29 million. This first step would be necessary to allow excess renewables to immediately be saved for use much later. The estimate for the total conversion of Eklutna Lake and the upper lakes to form a pumped energy storage complex was $855 million. Such an investment in long term energy storage would go a long way to provide encouragement to private sector IPP (Independent Power Producers) to install more wind and solar farms. With this positive motivation, there should be no need to resort to mandates (such as the Renewable Portfolio Standard), and fines and extra rates for exceeding demand limits. The study also included two more proposed pumped energy storage facilities, which would add another 300 megawatts to the Eklutna Complex power. 

The capacity of the Eklutna Complex was estimated to be 426 MW power and 507 GWh energy storage. This would be an excellent start to a long term energy plan, and might have been the easy way to get salmon back into Eklutna Lake. There are currently plans for more than 300 MW of wind and solar energy projects in the near future, so with such progress in the works why do we need the Renewable Portfolio Standard?

So as we develop our long term energy plan, the first two things that need to be done are 1) Secure future Cook Inlet natural gas production and distribution and 2) Get a start on pumped hydro installation. These steps will help secure our energy reliability and resilience, and allow proper engineering for whatever the future Railbelt system needs to be.  Encourage you legislators to find solutions to our Cook Inlet gas supply problem and to resist entanglement with an Renewable Portfolio Standard for our Railbelt electrical utility.

Robert Seitz, PE, is an Electrical Engineer and lifelong Alaskan.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Hmmm… China and India have nearly 40 new coal fired plants in different stages of construction….

    Why don’t we build a new coal fired plant?? It’s not like we don’t have a nearly endless supply in Alaska.

    • Is the new “Healy Coal Plant” now fully operational at 100 % capacity and online, supplying reliable base load to the Grid? If not, why don’t we fire that unit up now? Maybe(?), there’s a buyer for that unit, demobe the entire facility and make the sale tied to a 50-year coal sales agreement?

    • Good point Willy. There is a coal project that’s been studied for years not too far away from Beluga.
      I believe near the Chuitna River. Also Chakachamna Lake Hydro maybe its time has come.

    • Actually, a better project would be a CTL plant at Tyonek. Size it at 80,000 bbl/day syn diesel, use waste heat to power generators and you will get around 350 MW of electricity from it. Probably can get gasoline and methane out of it. CTLs should be in our very near future. Cheers –

  2. Wind and solar farms? Have you ever actually lived in Alaska?

    1/2 the year is dark. Of the 1/2 that isn’t its anywhere from partly to mostly cloudy.

    Wind, except in certain locations, highly erratic.

    Better to encourage people to use unicorn farts and care bear hugs.

    • Converting solar and wind energy to kinetic energy for pumping water up a mountain seems far-fetched. These are high-capital and high-maintenance items to add to the hydro production costs. Sounds very inefficient.

  3. Sure seems like the Susitna-Watana Hydro Dam Project would be a great endeavor and excellent investment, paying dividends to Alaska and Alaskans for many years. Unfortunately, the environment-culture we live in today where most developments projects are stalled endlessly in court for nefarious reasons, it’s hard to believe there’s a high level of conviction – confidence and/or will power – courage to execute such an epic project.

    • The Susitna Dam project has never been anything but a delusional exercise in self-glorification for its founders and a huge money trough for their cronies. The proposed reservoir would be FORTY-TWO MILES long! That’s not a reservoir, it’s a sea! If the dam ever broke from an earthquake, both Talkeetna and Trapper Creek would be completely wiped out. For less than has been already spent on the project, we could have already had a reasonable-sized hydro plant up and running.

      • 42 miles is not particularly long. Chile has hydro all over the place and their dams seem to play well with megathrust earthquakes. I think your concerns are overblown. Cheers –

  4. Stupid new direction of MRAK. Nothing smart comes out of Homer AK. This is dumb. By the way I hate your new podcasts subjects. I don’t need to waste my time listening to bleeding heart leftists.

    • You always have the option NOT to read or listen to anything you don’t want to. No one is forcing you to listen to a podcast or read an article/opinion piece. Or is someone holding your eyes open and forcing you to read? Blink twice if you need assistance.

      Just like how I don’t care for people to preach at me, so I don’t go to church and choose not to listen to the Christian rock station on the radio. I don’t call for either to be stopped, I just CHOOSE to ignore them.

      And you denigrate the community of Homer saying “nothing smart comes out of Homer.” While in other posts, you sing the praises of their state representative Sarah Vance, who is from Homer.

      C’mon Jen, you can do better

      • Pablo, you say, “Just like how I don’t care for people to preach at me, so I don’t go to church and choose not to listen to the Christian rock station on the radio. I don’t call for either to be stopped, I just CHOOSE to ignore them.”

        Your expressions are very similar to what you criticize Jen for doing. More power to both of you. Expressing such thoughts and criticism is what discussion boards are meant for.

  5. Alaska needs to get it’s act together and stop thinking about the profit for energy providers. Alaska could easily add a multitude of geothermal, tidal, nuclear plants, and a gas plant on the slope to produce high voltage DC. Run the lines along the same route as the pipeline and add substations to split it off where needed.

    Sell the surplus to Canada, or the lower 48. HVDC lines have been run over 2,000 miles with little loss.

    Alaska should have some of the lowest cost electricity in the nation which would create significant economic growth.

    • Actually, given the billions that they want to blow on all freakshow manner of other projects that they’re dreaming up for pirate equities to hoover off of, I’d like to see the economics!

  6. I love the idea of pumped hydro but that relies on lower cost off-peak hours to pump and then generate during peak demand hours – reducing the strain on other generation capacity. The electrical demand of the pumping has to come from somewhere else though – so it requires fossil fuel or renewables anyway.

    • And all winter long the electrical demand can be extraordinary. Wind and solar are no shows. You can’t/shouldn’t be pumping saltwater up to the lake. The storage fore bay that would have to be built would be colossal and incredibly expensive.

      Storage, regardless of method be it BESS, CO2, pumped hydro, isn’t meant to backup miserable renewables, but to keep the grid alive until backup can come on. Anyone looking at the solar and wind capacity factors on up here would know that the storage to make this work would be incredibly and unrealistically expensive. This can only be done by copious printing of our grandchildren’s money making them slaves to our wretched compliance to eco-fascism.

      We have the resources for logical, affordable and reliable energy. All we have to do is abandon the carbon control narrative entirely, even if, and particularly requiring, abandoning the harvesting of federal dollars by pirate equities and foreign companies.

      Why is it that Alaskans and Americans are being asked such a stunningly ridiculous price of generational, inflation exploding, generational debt for installing renewables in such an energy rich place to save the earth from so little of the contrived GHG?

      This makes the Teapot Dome scandal look like a kid stealing a candy bar.

  7. Pumped hydro is a joke, you can’t something from
    nothing. Stored energy from wind & solar is impractical
    or impossible esp with the Eklutna Complex .
    Someone will get rich off of other people’s loss.

    • We had pumped hydro where I used to live. It was only viable once the nuke plant that pumped the water back up the hill was online. See Helms Project and Diablo Canyon. Both in California and very expensive

  8. Alaska needs to follow the Texas attitude and tell the feds ##### and just drill to full fill our needs and country. We have so much here I am tired of us constantly being slammed by the greenies and stopping our production when they don’t even live here.

  9. I wholly agree that Renewable Portfolio Standards are mandates and should not be allowed to happen. Pumped energy storage is a proven means for short, intermediate, and long term energy storage. However, the price tag approaching $1,000,000,000.00 is astronomical and would raise our already high rates to all new highs. All so we can develop grid scale solar that essentially does not work half the year and the other half does not work very well in Northern clinates, and wind that isn’t reliable and creates a huge eyesore on our landscape? How much will those additional solar panels and wind farms cost on top of the $1,000,000,000.00 pumped storage price tag?

  10. Forget the big push in the unstainable Renewable Portfolio Standards. They will not sustain us in the future. What with Bill Gates trying to cover the earth with clouds projects to lower the earth’s temperature, how will all those electric fields generate power? Let’s quit acting like sheep and do what makes sense. Keep the dams in the State. Continue on coal generation and improvements, and drill for natural gas and oil. This State has an abundant amount of coal resources, especially in the Point Lay region. Maybe we need to begin processing our own oil now in a bigger way for us and for export as a finished product. Ensuring that the finished product only goes to the lower 48 and not to other countries first? A State’s first obligation is to it’s people and then to the Nation. Not the other way around.

  11. The issue is that we have climate change cultists in power. These people honestly believe we’re all going to die in 5 years without radical change. With that mindset, cost is never considered.

  12. Why would “positive motivations” -not- include assurances that electricity thus produced will be cheaper, more reliable, not vulnerable to disruption by foreign hackers?
    .
    Without such assurances, what quantifiable good to consumers are “renewable additions to the power grid”?
    .
    We ask because arguments for renewable additions to the power grid don’t lead with these goals, ratepayers don’t hear how renewable magic makes cheaper, more reliable electricity not subject to Communist Chinese hacking.
    .
    Maybe the “positive motivations” schtick needs more work?
    .
    So, Mr. Seitz, might one ask, without the techno-babble, what’s in it for customers?
    .
    Question seems reasonable because planning for the replacement base source of energy and the particular long term energy storage sounds ominously like a super expensive solution in search of a problem, don’t you think?
    .
    Maybe, before crunching numbers to figure out how much can be squeezed from taxpayers, a glossy brochure about places where this thing actually makes cheaper, more reliable electricity not vulnerable to foreign hacking would have been helpful, no?

  13. Pumped hydro out of Eklutna is an idea I never considered. Good idea. Source of the water would have to be fresh, somewhere up the Knik at or above the Eklutna tailrace. Probably would have to filter out the muck before pumping it uphill.

    Problem with the naysayers is that REAP et al have grabbed control of both the Chugach and MEA Boards. However stupid large caliber renewables are (wind and solar are both really stupid), both bodies are going to do everything humanly possible to force them down the throats of a disagreeable and unwilling membership.

    Any (every?) attempt at big renewable (wind or solar) MUST include storage (and pumped hydro is one such storage) as part of the overall proposal. If the combined numbers don’t work out, don’t do the Big Renewable.

    Nicely done, Bob. Cheers –

  14. On second thought, not that Bob Seitz figured out how to make Big Wind and Big Solar reliable in the Railbelt, the grifters from REAP and Big Green and their elected members of the CEA and MEA Boards ought to give him a medal. Of course there is the little problem with raising an extra Billion dollars to put their schemes in place along with the cost of a larger, more reliable dam to make it so, something I don’t think they have budgeted. Cheers –

    • I’d say that we have all gotten spoiled with the legacy that we’ve all enjoyed of traditional, well run, fiscally responsible cooperatives and utilities that answer to members and regulatory review and oversight.

      This is EXACTLY why the utilities and co-ops have not built expensive, inefficient, unreliable solar and wind. The financials don’t allow them. They completely fail the test of economics and system reliability. Electricity must be affordable and reliable. Renewables, even with transition storage, is not and can never be in Alaska.

      We need look no further than the visual blight on Alaskan’s majesty than Fire Island to see the future of what will be called independent power producers (IPPs). The governor submitted bills to allow IPPs unpaid access to our legacy system. Ask any Chugach energy planner what they think of that joke called generation and they’ll admit that it was a huge mistake. During the last crisis, it was a no-show. It is always a no show. It never makes name plate 17MW. It’s average is a third of that. During our days of most need, it was hardly 1/20th of that, virtually useless. The much celebrated Willow solar farm did nothing for us. We would have to have had a mountain of batteries as big as Mt. Susitna were it not for the Cook Inlet’s gas!

      In December, the RCA, wisely and well conditioned to consider economics and reliability, unanimously rejected the renewable portfolio standard. The minutes from their meeting are sober reasoning and should be much appreciated and learned by south central rate payers, business and homeowners alike.

      Look at the massive efforts now to work around the RCA. Are the HB121 and SB101 and HB117 and SB107 allowing such protections?

      One has to ask, who actually benefits from the massive flow of our printed debt to install RPS? By looking at letters between the governor and investors, probably not Alaskans or American tax or rate payers. As a popular radio show host frequently and justly opines, “Follow the money!”

  15. I am not convinced that this isn’t the ultimate plan anyhow, albeit a terrible one.

    This proposal is a gift for the likes of those such as Chris Rose/REAP to avoid the slog through the trenches of the legislative process and all involved with passing RPS legislation.

    As the governor ultimately has the power to negotiate to this as an end solution, and given everything else he has done to progress the “all of the above” approach, we have no reason to believe that this isn’t what the compromise will be, because we know the climate cult will not accept the current proposed solution.

    The all-in number listed for this is closer to $5B. Can we please talk about something more sensible to the “all of the above” approach, such as a coal plant sans carbon control? Maybe two?

    The fact that Dunleavy solicited Warren Buffett just after this report was published (by people who tried to recall him) and that this solution is considered acceptable by NVE are of note. Unfortunately Alaskans have a governor that gets to play Santa Claus to the pirate equities on the backs of rate payers and tax payers who can ill afford the government and utility load they have now. God help us all.

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