Bethel strides toward renewable wind energy

AVEC meteorological tower south of the Bethel landfill. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)
AVEC meteorological tower south of the Bethel landfill. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Energy officials hope two newly constructed towers in Bethel will pave the way to reducing the city’s multi-million gallon dependence on diesel fuel. The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, or AVEC, raised the towers to collect atmospheric data for future wind turbines.

Steve Gilbert manages AVEC’s energy projects and said one turbine could replace over 200,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year, lowering electric costs in Bethel.

“That’s money that stays in the community,” Gilbert said. “In other words we don’t have to use that to buy fuel to generate the electricity.”

Gilbert said Bethel’s electric grid consumes 2.5 million gallons of diesel annually. The turbines would reduce that amount, but the number of turbines AVEC would install is still undecided. What Gilbert can say is Bethel is AVEC’s largest customer and the turbines would be the biggest ones ever used by the company.

“We may start out with a single turbine. We might be able to put in two or three,” Gilbert said.

The two meteorological towers will help make those decisions. Each stands about 200 feet tall with long guy-wires, or supports, shooting out along the length and a base the size of a pickup truck’s hood.

One tower sits off the BIA road on KYUK land. The other sits just south of the landfill on a popular snow machine trail. Gilbert said AVEC is working to make that one more visible.

“So what we’ve done there is we’ve put up some snow fencing. It’s bright orange. We’ve put up some reflectors. We’ve put up some signs that say caution. And then we’re adding to that some more large orange markers like used by the Dept. of Transportation along road ways, so they stick up nice and high. And then we’re also putting up barriers on either ends with the flashing lights on them,” Gilbert said.

The towers are temporary and should stand about three years until turbines are installed.

AVEC is a nonprofit utility company serving 56 villages across rural Alaska. Gilbert says AVEC operates more wind turbines than any electric utility in the state with 34 turbines in 12 communities.