Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Second Largest Island in U.S. Goes 100% Renewable

Business
Second Largest Island in U.S. Goes 100% Renewable

As most Alaskans can attest, energy in The Last Frontier is expensive. The average residential electricity rate of more than 18 cents per kWh is a full 50 percent higher than the national average, ranking among the highest in the country. That’s in part because outside the 50 hydro plants throughout the state, most of Alaska’s rural communities rely on imported diesel for their electricity. But the folks of Kodiak Island (pop. 15,000) in southern Alaska—powered almost 100 percent with renewable energy—have a different story to tell.

Kodiak Island in southern Alaska is powered 99.7 percent by hydro and wind.

Although Kodiak Island, the second-largest island in the U.S., relied on hydropower for 80 percent of the electricity production, it was also burning 2.8 million gallons of diesel per year, at an annual cost of $7 million. In the face of climate change and high electricity costs, the board and managers at Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) set a goal of producing 95 percent of the community’s electrical needs with renewable energy by 2020. They actually arrived there well ahead of time, and are now 99.7 percent renewably powered by wind and hydro.

Making the transition

The State of Alaska has a renewable energy fund created in 2008 by the Alaska Energy Authority to help finance renewable energy projects and reduce and stabilize the cost of energy. KEA received $16 million in grant money through the fund and $39.6 million through clean renewable energy bonds (CREBs). The CREB funds gave KEA a near-zero-interest loan for the project.

The first step was to purchase three General Electric 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbines. The turbines were installed in 2009, which was challenging according to Kodiak Electric Association CEO Darron Scott. “There was not a lot of information back then on how to keep the grid frequency and voltage steady with an influx of variable wind power,” Scott told Rocky Mountain Institute. “It was uncharted territory.” But after a grid integration study, which assessed the technical and economic impacts on the grid, the first three wind turbines were installed.

Upgraded hydro for grid stability

A second modeling study was performed with real data from the first phase, and a second phase of three more wind turbines was proposed. But before installing the second phase of wind turbines, KEA wanted to upgrade the existing hydropower system. KEA felt that to ensure grid stability, the amount of wind power being put onto the grid had reached its maximum. The 20-MW, two-turbine Terror Lake hydroelectric plant was built in 1984, and forward-thinking engineers left an empty bay for a third turbine in case Kodiak’s load grew. In 2011, Kodiak’s peak load grew to more than 26 MW, and the increased load, along with a desire to rely on more renewables, led to the installation of a third 10-MW turbine.

Besides covering peak loads, this turbine provided the necessary capacity and enhanced grid stability to allow more variable renewable power, like the three new proposed wind turbines, to come online. The new turbine also provided system redundancy, as the 30-year-old turbines require maintenance, which can now be done during low load seasons without switching to diesel.

A role for storage

For smaller electricity grids with quickly fluctuating demand and variable renewable energy inputs, a way to store the energy can be a great asset. In 2012, the three additional 1.5-MW wind turbines were installed, along with 3 MW of battery storage. The battery storage systems provide 30–90 seconds of bridging power when the wind output decreases, in order to ramp up the hydro system. Now, the Kodiak port wants to install a new 2-MW crane, potentially causing destabilizing power fluctuations leading to undesirable cycle of the batteries and the potential for consumption of more diesel to provide spinning reserve. Instead, KEA plans to add an additional flywheel energy storage system in about two or three months that will help compensate for the peaking crane loads. The PowerStore flywheel units from ABB will provide voltage and frequency support, will help manage the variable wind power and will mean fewer cycles through the batteries, extending the life of the battery systems.

Economic stability

The financial rewards of the project have been great. According to Scott, the community is saving. Electricity rates have gone down, and are now 2.5 percent lower than in 2001. “The stable electricity rates have also brought in more construction, expanded the fishing industry, and brought in more jobs and tax revenue,” Scott told RMI. And, at least one seafood company is capitalizing on the renewable energy to promote its sustainable salmon, as its salmon production plant is powered by wind energy.

The State of Alaska has a goal of reaching 50 percent renewable energy by 2025. Kodiak Island is providing a great example of how to reach and even go beyond that goal. “There are many communities in Alaska with significant microgrid achievement,” George Roe, research professor with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, told RMI, “and there is local, national and global potential for building on Alaskan hard-won experience such as that in Kodiak.” In fact, the Alaska Energy Authority and KEA won the 2014 State Leadership in Clean Energy Award for their renewable energy programs.

“Both the Alaska Energy Authority and the Kodiak Electric Association are putting into practice five principles that I believe are in our national interest,” said Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski in a congratulatory speech. “And those are to make energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse and secure.” Kodiak went beyond its reliance on hydropower, adding different renewable resources and storage, making its electrical system more reliable and secure and a model for other communities looking to add variable renewable sources to their grid.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Pipeline Spews 21,000 Gallons of Oil Along California Coast

Biking Is Faster Than Driving in These Major Cities

5 Solar Innovations That Are Revolutionizing the World

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

These microfibers, smaller than five millimeters, are shed when synthetic clothes are washed. Cris Cantón / Getty Images
A new study from the University of California at Santa Barbara has found that synthetic clothes released about 4,000 metric tons of plastic microfibers into California's environment in 2019.
Read More Show Less

Trending

The 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired Kingston Steam Plant, just outside Kingston, Tennessee on the shore of Watts Bar Lake on March 31, 2019. In 2008, a coal ash pond at the plant collapsed, leading to the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and subsequent industry regulations in 2015. Paul Harris / Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule change on Friday that will allow some coal power plants to ignore a court order to clean up coal ash ponds, which leech toxic materials into soil and groundwater. The rule change will allow some coal ash ponds to stay open for years while others that have no barrier to protect surrounding areas are allowed to stay open indefinitely, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
President Donald Trump prepares to sign an Executive Order to begin the roll-back of environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration, on February 28, 2017 in the White House in Washington, D.C. Aude Guerrucci-Pool / Getty Images

By Brett Wilkins

With President Donald Trump's re-election very much in doubt, his administration is rushing to ram through regulatory rollbacks that could adversely affect millions of Americans, the environment, and the ability of Joe Biden—should he win—to pursue his agenda or even undo the damage done over the past four years.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a plastic shopping plastic bag as he walks along Times Square in New York City on April 2, 2019. Eduardo MunozAlvarez / VIEWpress / Corbis via Getty Images

New York is finally bagging plastic bags.

The statewide ban on the highly polluting items actually went into effect March 1. But enforcement, which was supposed to start a month later, was delayed by the one-two punch of a lawsuit and the coronavirus pandemic, NY1 reported. Now, more than six months later, enforcement is set to begin Monday.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch