Living green: Project with WWU professor looks underground for Alaska energy
The Bellingham Herald
May 26, 2015
The possible answer to the energy needs of a small town on a small island in Alaska lies just below their feet.
Akutan sits in Alaska’s remote Aleutian chain and is home to Mount Akutan, a 4,275-foot volcano that erupted as recently as 1992. With that fresh volcanic activity, there’s plenty of hot water below ground that could be used to generate electricity for the town’s 100 year-round residents and for Trident Seafood’s production plant, the largest such plant in North America, with up to 1,400 employees during peak season.
For power now, more than 4 million gallons of diesel fuel are shipped to the island every year, at a cost of $14 million. Pete Stelling, assistant professor of geology at Western Washington University, is working to make Akutan much less dependent on the fuel by tapping the island’s renewable geothermal energy.
“While we can’t entirely eliminate fuel imports to the island, we can reduce the amounts,” he says.
The island setting is familiar turf for Stelling. The Boulder, Colo., native studied igneous rocks and volcanoes for his doctorate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As part of his graduate work, he helped create a geologic map for Akutan.
That led to an invitation for Stelling to join the Akutan Geothermal Exploration Project. Stelling says there’s a plan in place to tap the geothermal energy, but the team is working to secure additional funding before they drill further and determine where a power plant should be located. The plant would extract hot water, use it to produce electricity, then return the water back underground…