|  April 18, 2014  |  
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Alaska Airlines Breaks Ground With Wind, Solar Power In Nome

Nome brings to mind a lot of things - the end of the iconic Iditarod dog sled race, long days in summer, short ones in winter, excellent crabbing and berry picking, bitter cold for much of the year. An unexpected discovery is the use of renewable, environmentally-friendly energy in this rural Alaskan outpost.

Recently Alaska Airlines erected a 30-foot-high wind turbine adjacent to the Nome Terminal in addition to installing a solar panel array on the roof. The project is the first foray for Alaska Airlines into using wind and solar power to produce a significant amount of an airport's electricity - and it appears to be the first time a domestic carrier has pursued alternative energy for an airport operation. If successful, the concept may be expanded to other rural airports in Alaska, said Ron Suttell, Alaska's director of facilities planning and administration.

The turbine and solar panels are expected to produce around 15,000 kilowatt hours of power per year or about 6 percent of the terminal's 240,000 kilowatt hours electrical load. If the turbine and panels produce as much energy as expected, it will save the airline about $5,000 per year in energy costs. That means the project should pay for itself in eight years, when government grants and tax incentives are taken into account, Suttell said.

The project also will save around 7,500 gallons of diesel fuel that would otherwise be burned to create electricity, and it will reduce carbon emissions by 152,000 pounds over its 20- to 25-year lifespan. The building will continue to be heated by diesel fuel, one of the least expensive ways to produce heat in the Arctic.

Nome was chosen for the test case because it's a station with high energy usage, where power is relatively expensive and where wind, with gusts up to 80-90 mph, is in steady supply. Also, since 2009, the local utility has been using 18 wind turbines to produce some of the town's electricity, so there was local expertise with a record of success.

As soon as the turbine was installed, the five-foot blades started spinning, said Chris Andree, Alaska Airlines' regional manager of properties and facilities, who oversaw the project for the airline.

It was an exciting moment for Andree, who has been working on the project for months - and it caught the attention of employees and passersby.

"People said 'whoa', what is going on?'" he said. "It made an impression."

Alaska Airlines worked with Kyle Smith of Heritage Renewables to permit, plan and purchase the wind and solar equipment. The wind turbine, manufactured by a Scottish company, has performed very well in Alaska and Antarctica, Smith said.

"The turbine was selected because it performs well in turbulent air, it is engineered to continue producing electricity in harsh climates and high winds, and the design eliminates icing issues on the blades," Andree said.

The turbines and solar panels were installed by Alaskan contractors AlasCo Construction and Alaskan Wind Industries and routine maintenance will be performed by a local company, Suttell said. The installation process had to meet stringent safety standards and be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the state Department of Transportation.

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