US Climate and Health Alliance

Renewable energy and sustainable communities: Alaska’s wind generator experience


BACKGROUND: In 1984, the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development (DCED) issued the State’s first inventory/economic assessment of wind generators, documenting installed wind generator capacity and the economics of replacing diesel-fuel-generated electricity. Alaska’s wind generation capacity had grown from hundreds of installed kilowatts to over 15.3 megawatts (MW) by January 2012. METHOD: This article reviews data and conclusions presented in “Alaska’s Wind Energy Systems; Inventory and Economic Assessment” (1). (Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development, S. Konkel, 1984). It provides a foundation and baseline for understanding the development of this renewable energy source. RESULTS: Today’s technologies have evolved at an astonishing pace; a typical generator in an Alaska wind farm now is likely rated at 1.5-MW capacity, compared to the single-kilowatt (kW) machines present in 1984. Installed capacity has mushroomed, illustrated by Unalakleet’s 600-kW wind farm dwarfing the original three 10-kW machines included in the 1984 inventory. Kodiak Electric had three 1.5-MW turbines installed at Pillar Mountain in 2009, with three additional turbines of 4.5-MW capacity installed in 2012. Utilities now actively plan for wind generation and compete for state funding. DISCUSSION: State of Alaska energy policy provides the context for energy project decision-making. Substantial renewable energy fund (REF) awards—$202,000,000 to date for 227 REF projects in the first 5 cycles of funding—along with numerous energy conservation programs—are now in place. Increasing investment in wind is driven by multiple factors. Stakeholders have interests both in public policy and meeting private investment objectives. Wind generator investors should consider project economics and potential impacts of energy decisions on human health. Specifically this article considers: changing environmental conditions in remote Alaska villages, impacts associated with climate change on human health, progress in better understanding wind energy potential through resource assessments and new tools for detailed feasibility and project planning, need for comprehensive monitoring and data analysis, and state funding requirements and opportunity costs. CONCLUSION: The energy policy choices ahead for Alaska will have important implications for Arctic population health, especially for those villages whose relatively small size and remote locations make energy a key component of subsistence lifestyles and community sustainability. Wind generation can contribute to meeting renewable energy goals and is a particularly important resource for rural and remote Alaskan communities currently dependent on diesel fuel for generating electricity and heat.

Resource Type
Peer-reviewed article
R. Steven Konkel
Resource URL
International Journal of Circumpolar Health
Journal Abbr.
Int J Circumpolar Health
Short Title
Renewable energy and sustainable communities
Organization Type
Climate adaptation/resilience Renewable/clean energy

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