Alaska’s geothermal project could fuel the region’s economic sustainability
AKUTAN, Alaska – A geophysical survey team is using electromagnetic probes in the remote community of Akutan, Alaska to help investigate the potential of the nearby geothermal resource. If a significant resource is identified this would potentially allow the Eastern Aleutian region to realize a clean, inexpensive and reliable source of energy production.
Currently, the City of Akutan (population 713) and Trident Seafoods, a large plant which operates within the community, use a combined peak of 7 MW of diesel-generated power. The city’s power cost exceeds $0.32 kWh. Development of power from the Akutan geothermal project would eliminate the dependence on diesel fuel, reduce carbon emissions and promote economic and cultural sustainability of Akutan and the region.
Geothermal energy is an environmentally-friendly source of renewable energy that harnesses the natural power of steam from the earth to generate electricity and heat while producing almost no greenhouse emissions. This cost-effective energy appears to be located right in Akutan’s backyard.
The geophysical survey uses electromagnetic probes to detect subsurface electrical patterns to locate the geothermal “reservoir.” The technical team has established a base camp in Hot Springs Bay Valley on Akutan Island. Team members will conduct testing of as many as 50 locations. Local residents Matthew Bereskin and Brett Willis will be working as part of the field crew. Trident Seafoods is providing logistical support between Dutch Harbor and Akutan. City Mayor Joe Bereskin sees the geothermal project as a total community effort.
“We are working closely with the Akutan Village Corporation, the Akutan Traditional Tribal Council, the Aleut Corporation, Trident Seafoods and our residents to develop a geothermal power and heating resource to replace our dependence on diesel fuel,” Bereskin said. “It’s an exciting, long-term project which will translate into jobs and economic activity for the community and the region.”
Exploratory activities began in May 2009, with a soil chemistry survey of the Akutan geothermal area. In June and July, a remote sensing study was conducted by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, using thermal information from satellite images to detect thermal anomalies in the Akutan geothermal area. The current geophysical survey, using electromagnetic techniques, will aid in detecting subsurface resistivity/conductivity anomalies. Combined, these three surveys – all of which take place on the surface and require no drilling – will help locate the geothermal resource on Akutan.
Currently, the city is operating under an $800,000 loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which will carry the project through the end of the year. The City of Akutan was recently awarded a grant from the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund. Those funds are expected to be available within the next three months. The remainder of the $2.59 million in Alaska Energy Authority grant funding will go towards the drilling of geothermal wells.
As a necessary supplement to this funding, the City of Akutan recently applied for $4.5 million in Department of Energy stimulus grant funds for next year’s drilling program. The city also plans to request additional state funding. When producible wells are in place, the city will begin efforts to identify private investors and an experienced development partner. Ray Mann, senior consultant with RMA Consulting Group and the city’s program manager, is optimistic additional funds will be available.
“This is a two part process. We need public funding for exploration and confirmation of the resource, and private capital for development and operations.”
Surface exploratory activities are scheduled to continue throughout summer and fall of 2009, with exploratory drilling scheduled for the summer of 2010. The drilling phase of the project will employ a heli-portable coring drill rig to drill four “slim holes” up to 1,500 feet deep in areas selected on the basis of the 2009 resource evaluation. Once wells are complete, the city plans to team up with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, industry experts and state/federal agencies for the well testing and long-term monitoring program.
“Preliminary results from this summer’s fieldwork are extremely interesting,” said Dr. Amanda Kolker, project manager for the Akutan Geothermal Project. “We are rapidly developing a better understanding of the geothermal resource on Akutan. By the end of the year we should have a good conceptual model of the resource, which will help in targeting successful geothermal wells.”
Akutan is located on Akutan Island in the eastern Aleutians, off the southwest tip of the Alaska Peninsula, between the Bering Sea and the north Pacific Ocean. The city is 766 air miles southwest of Anchorage. Akutan is one of the busiest fishing ports in the country.