Akutan Volcano’s Geothermal Power Potential Increases

The central cone in Akutan Caldera. Photo courtesy Cyrus Read, USGS.
The central cone in Akutan Caldera. Photo courtesy Cyrus Read, USGS.

A new study says Akutan Volcano could be an even more promising source of geothermal energy than previously thought.

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It’s been three decades since the U.S. Geological Survey last studied Akutan’s volcano-powered hot springs. Since then, head researcher Deborah Bergfeld says the springs have gotten stronger, and there’s more material from Akutan Volcano dissolved in the springwater.

“These are all good indicators that there might be a reservoir of hot water big enough to supply geothermal power,” she says.

Bergfeld says a volcanic eruption and seismic activity in the 1990s could account for the increase in power potential — the springs are now producing 29 megawatts of heat. That number would shrink when converted into electricity. But Bergfeld says it would still be substantial.

“We don’t have enough data to say how many megawatts of electricity you could get out of it. We just said that there would be a potential for several,” she says. “Each megawatt could power about 750 homes.”

It sounds like a good deal for the city’s small residential population and its large Trident Seafoods processing plant. Right now, that all runs on fuel oil barged in from Unalaska.

But Bergfeld says a strong volcanic resource alone isn’t enough to tell whether geothermal is worth the cost of installation.

“You also have to have a need for the power. So it has to be people living there… there’s a lot of economy,” she says. “The balance has to work out.”

That’s a balance Akutan is hoping to strike. They’ve been working on a plan to tap into their geothermal resource for years, with the help of several grants.

Akutan mayor Joe Bereskin says the new USGS data will help their cause as they work on a business plan.

“I think there’s a customer base here,” he says. “We just have to make the numbers work. And that’s what our next goal is, to see if it all makes financial sense.”

They hope to have that business plan done in the next month.