Shining Light on Bristol Bay
Bristol Bay now houses the largest solar array in Alaska. Naknek Electric Association’s 80.08 kW array in the tundra near Pederson Point has been producing electricity since mid-September 2016. The solar array, which was developed and installed by Washington-based CapStone Solutions, is performing better than expected according to CapStone’s Solar Division Director David Nicol.
The solar array was originally intended for a project with the Bristol Bay Borough School District. CapStone developed and installed the array on the school but faced insurmountable permitting barriers. Mr. Nicol explained that in order to maintain the project and prove it could be done in Alaska for a reasonable cost, the company decided to sell the array to Naknek Electric. Mr. Nicol believes the biggest barrier to installation in Alaska right now is education. “The technology works, it’s tried and true and it doesn’t come with the integration maintenance challenges that small wind projects can have. We need to educate the public, help people understand that this can work. The primary misconception is that it’s too expensive to use in many places."
Nanci Morris-Lyon, President of the Board of Naknek Electric Association, noted in a KDLG interview that the decision to purchase and operate the solar array is “a conscious effort to reduce the carbon footprint” and an effort to find a means of reducing the high cost burden of energy in rural Alaska. Mr. Nicol estimates the array will offset 3,500 to 4,500 gallons of diesel annually. Both Capstone and Naknek Electric Association are watching closely to determine the economic effect of the array. CapStone is expected to close negotiations with three more villages in 2017. These projects combined could add about a megawatt of solar electricity and battery storage in the Bristol Bay Region, with the possibility of cutting diesel consumption and extending the lifespan of the generators in the villages where solar arrays are operational.
Source: SWAMC interview and KDLG audio transcript, Avery Lill, 12.5.16,