More of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s electric needs will soon come from wind. AVEC, the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, is installing identical wind turbines in Bethel, on the Kuskokwim River, and another in St. Mary’s, on the Yukon River.
There’s something new on the Bethel skyline. Off BIA Road, between the FAA's doppler tower and the KYUK radio tower, there now stands a wind turbine. With red and white bands, the tower appears as a larger-than-life candy cane on the tundra withsharp, silver blades shooting out from the top.
“Visibility is the key,” explains Meera Kohler, President and CEO of AVEC. That’s because the machine stands 78 meters high and is not far from the flyway into the Bethel airport.
The 900 kilowatt turbine is expected to produce 5 percent of the annual electric needs for Bethel, Oscarville, and Napakiak. That means it’ll produce 2.1 million kilowatt hours per year. That output should displace 170,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually. Small homeowners will hardly see a difference to their power bill, because the state subsidizes that bill with Power Cost Equalization, or PCE.
“But all the commercial users will see some impact," Kohler said. "So the schools, and the hospital, and the clinic. All the places that don’t get PCE, they’ll see a reduction in the cost of their electricity.”
The turbine should begin rotating and generating power in early September. AVEC just needs to install transformers and the power lines to connect the turbine to the electric grid.
In the meantime, an identical wind turbine is going up in St. Mary’s. The project involves stringing a power line downriver to Mountain Village. The turbine will provide 30 to 40 percent of the annual electric needs for both communities and is expected to begin generating power by the beginning of 2019.