Fairbanks Looks Underground for Energy

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Fairbanks North Star Borough will use federal money to investigate local geothermal energy potential. $1 million from the Department of Energy is being put out by the borough as a request for proposals to develop a model and technology for turning underground heat into electricity.  Borough Grant Coordinator Chris Storkok explained the goals of the effort to the Borough Assembly last week.

The Borough Assembly has approved offering the money as a grant to an entity that can provide matching funds.  Fairbanks is already on the geothermal map for the successful development of  a power plant at Chena Hot Spring Resort.  Engineer Gwen Holdman, who stewarded development of the project, and now serves as Director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says Chena Hot Springs could produce some level of power for Fairbanks.

Holdman says that’s not enough power at current energy process given the cost of building 30 miles of transmission line to tie Chena into the grid.  The same problem exists with other known local geothermal resources at Circle and Big Windy Hot Springs.   Tests of Fairbanks area deep water wells have not yielded any indication of geothermal heat. Holdman says it’s unlikely another Chean Hot Springs type site will be discovered but there may be  less apparent geothermal sources.

Holdman says a 10,000 foot deep hole drilled at Eielson Air Force Base decades ago, found a normal deep earth temperature.  That’s about 200 degrees, but too far down to tap.  Holdman says a better option might be using lesser heat closer to the surface. She says ground source heat pumps that amplify the differential between earth and surface temperature, may be an option depending on the cost of carbon based energy.

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