Are wind and solar power viable alternatives to a large hydro project like Susitna-Watana Hydro?

No, for a variety of reasons. The choice is not between hydropower and wind or solar-all renewable energy sources will play a valuable role in diversifying Alaska’s energy portfolio.

Hydropower provides a stable energy source and power.  Other renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, have no ability to store generated power and must be backed up with other power sources. In addition, they are unreliable sources of power, i.e. the sun isn’t always shining nor is the wind always blowing. As a result these energy sources are challenging to integrate into any power system. Hydropower provides the perfect complement to variable energy sources, increases their generation and helps integrated them into the existing power grid.

Today, hydropower generates 99.7 percent of all renewable energy produced in Alaska. Wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources make up the remaining .03 percent.

Two large wind projects in the Railbelt are coming online in 2012.  Chugach Electric customers will soon begin receiving power from Fire Island Wind. In Fairbanks, Golden Valley Electric Association is constructing Eva Creek, the state’s largest wind project.

For comparison, Susitna-Watana Hydro will provide 56 times the amount of electricity generated annually by the 11-turbine Fire Island Wind project (initial capacity).  It would take roughly 616 wind turbines like those at Fire Island to produce the same amount of electrical capacity as Susitna-Watana Hydro. Eva Creek is expected to be online in October 2012. Susitna-Watana Hydro will provide 24 times the amount of electricity generated by that project (initial capacity).

Similarly, it would take approximately 36,000 acres or 56-square miles of solar panels to produce 200 MW of solar power, one-third the power capacity of Susitna-Watana Hydro. Solar also cannot meet Alaska’s energy needs in winter, when demand is the highest.

Susitna-Watana Hydro will generate 2,800,000-megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity annually, meeting roughly 50 percent of the entire Railbelt’s electricity demands, providing clean, reliable energy for the next 100 years.

Posted in: Renewable Energy and Alaska