Alaska News Nightly: October 11, 2011

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Division of Elections Rejects Johansen Recall Application

Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan

The Alaska Division of Elections has rejected a recall application for Ketchikan Rep. Kyle Johansen. District One Republicans, who launched the recall effort in May, plan to meet to decide whether to appeal.

Report Faults UAF in Musk Oxen Deaths

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report blames the University of Alaska Fairbanks for the death of a dozen musk oxen at the University’s Large Animal Research Station last fall.  The recently issued USDA report follows a routine inspection, but cites several issues specifically related to the musk oxen die off, including an insufficient number of adequately trained LARS staff.  Also noted is the facility veterinarian’s additional role as head of research, a situation it says resulted in perceived fear of reprisal by staff if they contacted him about animal welfare.  UAF. spokeswoman Marmian Grimes says there’s nothing new in the report.  She says LARS has been in consultation with the USDA since the musk oxen die off to address the problems.

Grimes says that’s resulted in a number of changes in animal care including separate people to handle veterinary care and research aspects of the program.  The musk oxen die off was traced to a mineral deficiency caused by a new dietary supplement.  Grimes says the musk oxen herd has recovered since the trace mineral problem was addressed, but UAF takes full responsibility for what happened.

A Lower 48 animal welfare group is pressing the USDA to more fully investigate animal care at UAF in light of what happened.  Ohio based Stop Animal Exploitation Now co-founder Michael Budke says there’s something seriously wrong at the LARS facility if so many large animals could be allowed to die.

Budke has written to the USDA seeking an in depth inquiry, and proceedings to levy the university with a major fine.

Former EyakTek Employee Accused of Bribery, Money Laundering Appears in Court

Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The former EyakTek employee accused of bribery and money laundering appeared in federal court today (Tuesday) in Washington.  Harold Babb’s attorney is trying to get him released on bond before he goes to trial… but Judge Magistrate Deborah Robinson says she’ll decide that next week. First, Babb’s lawyer will get to review tapes the government has, which prosecutors say show Babb engaging in illegal activities.

Babb was arrested last week and accused of scheming with Army Corps of Engineers employees to steal 20 million dollars from government contracts by padding invoices.

The government wants to detain Babb.  Prosecutors argued he’s a flight risk because he’s traveled internationally recently and might have money stashed in hiding.

NSB Mayor Race Heading for Runoff Election

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The North Slope Borough mayor’s race is heading for a run off election. Three candidates were vying for the position, Charlotte Brower, former borough mayor George Ahmaogak Sr and Fenton Rexford. Brower received 639 votes, Ahmaogak 601 and Rexford 583.

The race is now between Brower and Ahmaogak. The run off election will take place on Nov. 8.

Wales Man Gets Jail Time for Child’s Truancy

Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome

A Wales man was sentenced last week to 15 days in jail for failing to ensure his child attended school.

RCA Approves Purchase Agreement Between Chugach Electric. Fire Island Wind

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has approved a power purchase agreement between Anchorage-based Chugach Electric and Fire Island Wind, LLC, a wind power farm owned by Cook Inlet Region, Inc.

Geothermal Energy Interest Grows in Alaska

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Several Alaska communities are making plans for geothermal generation of electricity. They’re also learning from existing projects – and mistakes.

When you’re trying to tap geothermal energy, for heating or electrical generation, you’ve got to consider a number of factors.

“The temperature is the obvious one. Flow rate is really important too,” says Gwen Holdmann, director of the University of Alaska’s Center for Power and Energy. She spoke at the recent Rural Alaska Energy Conference in Juneau.

“You might have a really high temperature resource and one good example that’s pretty close by here (Juneau) is Tenakee Springs. They have a fairly high temperature but they have an extremely low flow rate,” she says.

You also need to know the extent of the hot-water reservoir, its depth and the rate it recharges itself.

Another importation factor is location. Being close to a city or transmission lines make tapping power more affordable.

That’s why the Aleutian Islands city of Akutan, and the local Trident Seafoods plant, are looking at nearbyHot Springs Valley.

“We hit water as hot as 350 (degrees)-plus at 500 feet,” says Ray Mann, a consultant for the city of Akutan, northeast of Unalaska.

“But according to the studies that have been done that’s the outflow resource and we probably will not get the flow and the capacity we need. So we have to go further up the valley to the upflow zone. And the estimate is we could achieve anything between 15 and 100 megawatts, with a minimum of 8 megawatts, to provide power,” Mann says.

Outflow is where water comes from the ground. Inflow is the subterranean area where it travels to near the surface.

There’s been interest in the Akutan site for at least 30 years. New wells were drilled this and last year, one finding water up to 500 degrees. Deep water is under enough pressure that it does not boil off at those temperatures. And other studies further defined the resource.

Mann says the city is committed to building an approximately $60 million plant, including about 5 miles of road and transmission lines.

He says it could bring down power costs, from 66 cents a kilowatt-hour, without power-cost equalization, to around 13 cents per hour. Studies have shown it’s a better option than wind or hydropower.

“This has been the option because of the proximity of this resource and the size of the resource. There really aren’t that many other applications that are going to generate 7 to 8 megawatts for you the way this will do, because it’s right there and accessible,” he says.

Seven or eight megawatts is what Akutan needs, including the seafood plant. Trident is conducting its own study, and Mann says they’re working together.

He says the town already has about $10 million toward the project. It’s seeking another $15 million from government sources, and $45 million in private sector investments, which could include Trident.

Energy conference speakers say another area with a significant geothermal resource is Pilgrim Hot Springs, near Nome.

“We selected this site because we thought it was one that had potential to be developed to benefit the region,” says Gwen Holdmann of the Center for Power and Energy.

She says the former spa was first drilled in the late 1970s. She says the crew found two surprises.

“They didn’t hit bedrock, which is pretty interesting. They went down to 1,000 feet. And then the second thing that happened is that they drilled through a really shallow layer of super-hot water, up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s really hot. That’s barely below boiling temperature,” she says.

More drilling took place in the past two years. The work is not finished, but agencies think it’s worth developing. Holdmann says studies show the resource could produce more than enough electricity to power Nome.

“Right now the estimated potential for power generation is approximately 5 megawatts. We haven’t found anything to change that number at this point in time. That’s still a viable number,” Holdmann says.

A preliminary report, released about 4 years ago, estimated total cost at $50 million to $115 million, depending on the depth and generation system. A final report is due in about a year and a half.

A significant part of the expense would be transmission lines. That’s because the site is about 50 miles from Nome.

Holdmann says developers could tap the $4 or so million a year the town spends on diesel generation to help pay off construction costs.

Alaskans looking into geothermal energy are watching existing developments to see what they can learn. One point is the limits of some hot-water reservoirs.

“Renewable is not the same as sustainable and can’t be used interchangeably,” says Jo Mongrain of theUniversity of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

“Geothermal is a renewable resource. You extract energy and it’s going to be replaced by a comparable amount of energy. But what renewable doesn’t tell you is over what kind of time scale and what are you actually doing to that resource,” she says.

Mongrain has studied Chena Hot Springs, east of Fairbanks. It’s home to one of the state’s best-known geothermal energy projects.

She says research have shown several underground hot water zones below the resort. And some have showed lower temperatures and pressure as more wells have been drilled and more water removed.

“We certainly have interzone mixing within the well, although some of that’s being addressed by filling the wells up with bentonite. We need to look at the data in more detail but we may also have some kind of mixing within the reservoir,” Mongrain says.

She says sealing exploratory drill holes, and lining open shafts, can help keep cold water out of hot zones. And systems where cooling water is returned underground to maintain flow need separate wells.

Further studies could lead to additional recommendations for making future systems more sustainable.

Fairbanks Hatchery May Go into Operation in December

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The state’s new sport fish hatchery in Fairbanks could go into operation by December. The behind schedule and over budget facility has been plagued by problems with a water treatment system that has failed to work at high water flows.  Contractor CH2M Hill has been working to rectify the problem at the Ruth Burnett Sport Fish Hatchery, which was originally scheduled to come on line more than a year ago. Hatchery Manager Gary George says things finally look promising.

Fairbanks ground water needs to be treated to rear fish. George says iron and manganese concentration targets are being consistently met at maximum flow rates, something that hasn’t happened in previous testing.  He credits water purification modifications done last spring for allowing the system to finally perform as designed.   The hatchery is in the midst of a 30 day performance test to make sure the system can handle power outages and other upsets.  George says if it passes, the hatchery could start operating before the new year, starting with fingerling trout.

Geoge says other species will follow. The hatchery is designed to rear rainbow trout, king and silver salmon, arctic char and arctic grayling to stock interior waters. It’s unclear how much the water system fix will add to the Hatcheries $46 million price, a figure already twice what the state originally estimated.  Geoge says the state and CH2M Hill have to work that out.

Car Crashes into Anchorage House

Associated Press

An Alaska woman escaped serious injury by mere inches in an auto accident – while sitting in her living room today.

Nadine Lefevre of Anchorage was still in her bathrobe, sitting in an easy chair Tuesday morning when an SUV crashed through the front wall of her house. By the time it stopped, the vehicle was entirely inside her living room, and barely missed her purple chair.

Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker says, “Someone was looking out for her.”

Authorities say the driver of the vehicle was southbound on a major thoroughfare, lost control of the SUV and went east, straight into Lefevre’s home. The driver had minor injuries and was transported to a local hospital.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Sled Dogs Prepare for New Season

Diana Saverin, APRN  Contributor

With the approach of winter, Alaska’s sled dogs prepare for a new season. Some teams train for races, others mush with tourists, and many run for recreation. For Denali National Park’s 34 sled dogs, though, winter means work. Diana Saverin has the story.