Wind Energizes Isolated Alaska Island

Before fiber optics, 1,204-foot Pillar Mountain outside Kodiak, Alaska, was known for its antenna farm, which provided the town and all of Kodiak Island its only communication links to mainland Alaska and the world. Pillar Mountain is doing new duty now: three wind turbines were erected atop the mountain in the middle of 2009, and already they’ve generated enough energy to spare the burning of nearly 1 million gallons of diesel fuel.

That’s the word from General Electric, the company that manufactured the 1.5-megawatt turbines for the Pillar Mountain Wind Project [PDF].

image via Delaney Group

Because Kodiak Island is isolated off the south coast of Alaska, it’s power grid gets no help from the outside world. Before the wind turbines came in, it relied on a two-unit hydroelectric plant and seven diesel generators. Diesel provided nearly 20 percent of the power to the Kodiak Electric Association’s grid in 2009, as the wind project was just coming online. This year, that figure was down to 7.7 percent as of August 31.

Victor Abate, vice president-renewable energy for GE Power & Water, said in the press release that he hoped the project would “pave the way for future applications of our wind turbine technology in Alaska.” It already has on Kodiak Island, in an unexpected way: It’s paved the way for Kodiak’s Island Seafoods to connect wind power to its salmon. Although the company’s website doesn’t yet reflect the change, Island Seafoods’ general manager told the Kodiak Daily Mirror that it was planning to slap the motto,  “Sustainable fish produced by clean, sustainable wind turbine energy,” on its products. That same article in the Daily Mirror noted that the turbines have also been a PR boon for Kodiak itself, with the island and its new wind farm featured in the Alaska Airlines magazine and on the Discovery Channel. Indirect bedfellows indeed.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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