• Working group presents most recent data and project update to Homer City Council
By Hannah Heimbuch
Fresh from the deep water dock to city council chambers, recently collected data has bumped Homer’s Tidal Energy Incubator Project to the next level.
That was the subject of a report presented at Monday’s Homer City Council given by Rep. Paul Seaton and Kris Holderied, a physical oceanographer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The two are part of a working group geared toward creating an ocean floor test bed for tidal power projects off of Homer’s deep water dock. These projects generate power from the natural movement of the tides and currents.
“The newest thing is that we just had measurements made by Tom Ravens from UAA right at the deep water dock,” Holderied said. “They use an acoustic doppler current profiler, similar to the ones that are used by NOAA Tides and Currents Office.”
The acoustic profiler was submerged near the dock earlier this fall, Holderied said, but tilted over within the first week. They were able to remoor it and collect the data, which showed highest measured velocities of about 50 cm per second — or one knot.
Homer City Council appropriated $100,000 toward testing and data collection for this project.
Earlier in the year, engineering students with the University of Alaska Anchorage created preliminary designs for infrastructure that would support submerging and testing energy generating equipment. The council supported them with $2,500 for travel expenses.
NOAA already collects significant tidal and current data throughout Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay as part of its mission, Holderied said, information which is available to the city as it progresses with any kind of tidal project.
This latest set of data, collected right off the dock area targeted for a potential test bed, can be combined with the UAA project, current NOAA data, and other data collected by oceanic agencies to complete the information package the city needs for the next step in the process.
That next step is putting together a market analysis package that the city can then shop to engineering specialists that may be interested in making Homer their next stop for tidal energy technology development.
“We’ve been working collaboratively with the group that’s been assembled on this project to work through those issues like timeline, and how to go about those steps,” said Homer’s Community and Economic Development Coordinator Katie Koester. “It’s been really exciting to see all of that come together.”
What the council and working group has done, Holderied said, is create a space and set of useful information that will hopefully bring in researchers and economic development. Establishing this in Homer, she said, gives any incoming firm access to the power grid, the road system, and significant marine fabrication resources.
“It’s sort of like a lab, so that people that do have ideas can test them,” said working group member Jim Levine. “Its a great place for testing because it’s got everything you need. Road access and electric, boats can get at it, it’s got current, it’s got water.”
While it isn’t an alternative energy site, he said but a space for low current research and testing, it has the potential to bring in jobs and progress for Homer’s energy future.
“What I liked about it, obviously, is the alternative energy aspect,” Levine said. “And it’s already started. Just looking into it has created some research.”
One of their first stops with the market analysis will likely be to a renewable energy firm, Holderied said, like the Ocean Renewable Power Corporation, but there’s a lot of places they can take this information.
“There are other companies, or engineering schools, that might be interested in a test bed for tidal energy systems,” she said.
Whoever those interested parties may be, the working group will have a complete site characterization, preliminary design ideas and current and tidal data to offer them.
“Basically, it’s to build smartly,” Holderied said. “Not to assume that we know what these tech companies or universities might want, but actually ask them. Put a little bit of money into the market analysis and hopefully have a better project going forward.”
One of the advantages of this project is how many different organizations they have working together on it, Holderied said.
Rep. Paul Seaton established the idea for the working group, which brought in expertise from around the area — including NOAA, UAA, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Homer Electric Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Homer Harbor and Homer Public Works.
NOAA has also been working with the Alaska Energy Authority to create a tidal energy assessment for all of Cook Inlet, including Kachemak Bay and Shelikof Strait.
It creates what Holderied called a three dimensional hydrodynamic circulation model.
“There’s actually a wealth of information,” Holderied said. “You don’t have to start from scratch.”
Holderied is involved for both professional and personal interest, she said, because she believes in the significance of what this project could do for Homer and Alaska.
Part of the promise of the project is that it targets tidal areas that move at a low to moderate speed. The measurements taken at the dock — up to one knot per second — aren’t the screaming tides you’d find out in the middle of Cook Inlet, or at False Pass in Western Alaska.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential for power generation, Holderied said.
“If you could have systems that would work at a knot or so, now you have completely opened up thousands of miles of coastline,” Holderied said. “Lots of docks in small communities.”
That’s one of the reasons they want to leave the actual test best design concept up to whatever engineering firm decides to take it on. They may develop a system unlike other tidal energy projects — namely turbines — to generate energy in low current areas.
“The idea is that we’re going to facilitate people creating something that we can’t even think of today,” Holderied said. “It’s revolutionary from that standpoint.”
A good example of the potential here would be generating enough power to run the ice plant, Holderied said. While the plant is just one Homer building, it is the city’s single largest electric bill, and vital to fishing industry operations at the Homer dock.
“I have professional motivation with this because I’m an oceanographer,” Holderied said. “But personally as a resident in Homer and Alaska, I want to make this happen. I want to help. And across the board, the working group, everybody’s got that passion.”
Other council news:
• Resolution 14-018 was approved affirming the city manager’s decision to offer an additional $9,000 reward money for information leading to the arrest and inditement of the person or person responsible for the murder of Mark Matthews. Matthews was attacked and killed close to a footpath within the Homer City limits. The reward now stands at $10,000.
• Ordinance 14-02 amending HCC 9.16.040 and repealing and reenacting HCC 9.16.100, to repeal the exemption from city sales tax of sales of non-prepared foods from Sept. 1 through May 31 was defeated by a vote of four yes, and two no.
• Ordinance 14-03 amending HCC 9.16.040 and repealing and reenacting HCC 9.16.100, to repeal the exemption from city sales tax of sales of non-prepared foods from Sept. 1 through May 31. And amending HCC 9.16.010 to dedicate a sales tax of .25 percent to fund a parks and recreation department and submitting the question of repealing such sales tax exemption and such sales tax dedication to the qualified voters of the city was passed by the council. Public hearing and second reading will be on Jan. 27.
• The city manager reported that city hall has been converted to natural gas and are now paying less for energy and have lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. The library, animal shelter, sewer treatment plant and airport are expected to be converted and burning gas within the next 10 days.
• In December a vehicle broke through the ice on Beluga Lake. Police Chief Mark Robl worked to get the owner to have it hauled out but was unsuccessful. The city hired a contractor to pull the vehicle from the last at an estimated cost of $2,000. The city will pursue the owner for reimbursement.
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