Makushin work progresses; Karl sees geothermal potential on chain
for Petroleum News
Ounalashka/Chena Power LLC is moving ahead with the construction of a 36-megawatt geothermal power plant on a flank of the Makushin Volcano on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians. But Bernie Karl, OCCP president and co-director, told a meeting of the Commonwealth North Energy Policy Group on March 3 that this project could be the beginning of something much larger, given the amount of potential geothermal energy from the more than 50 volcanoes along the Aleutian island chain.
While the resource potential from the Makushin Volcano is around 563 megawatts, the Aleutians in total have a geothermal resource potential of 250,000 megawatts, Karl said.
“We’re on the Ring of Fire. We could produce enough energy on the Ring of Fire to take care of all of the energy needs of the world,” he said.
Manufacturing possibilitiesIn addition to the possibility of producing green hydrogen through the electrolysis of water using geothermal electricity, there is also the possibility of using the electricity for the manufacture of a variety of goods and foodstuffs, Karl said. He cited the example of Iceland, where a geothermal power smelting facility viably manufactures aluminum from bauxite shipped all of the way from Australia.
And with Unalaska being close to a major shipping route, the island and its Port of Dutch Harbor could become the fueling station of the future, Karl said. He said that OCCP’s geophysicist has estimated that a Makushin geothermal system could produce 450 megawatts of power for 500 years from its current acreage. He commented that, as a starting point, the company plans to place 40 acres of greenhouses adjacent the power plant, with the potential for producing large amounts of food.
Power purchase agreementOCCP has already signed a 30-year power purchase agreement with the City of Unalaska electricity utility. The company also anticipates supplying power to fish processing plants on the island, to replace the existing diesel generators. The shutting down of diesel generators would eliminate the emission of nitrogen oxides, particulates and carbon dioxide.
Another objective is to enable Unalaska residents to use heat pumps in their homes - OCCP has already conducted a study into this concept. Heat pumps, using geothermal generated electricity, would be an energy efficient means of heating buildings that would eliminate the need to burn fuel oil or diesel fuel.
And whereas there is significant price volatility associated with diesel fueled power generation, the pricing of geothermal energy remains stable over a long period of time - much of the pricing involves the long-term amortization of the initial construction costs.
OCCP also envisages the possibility of using its cash flow to construct a small green hydrogen plant on Unalaska. There could then be the opportunity to use the hydrogen in conjunction with fuel cells to power fishing boats operating from the island, Karl suggested.
And once the initial power station is in operation, OCCP will look at the potential for expanding the system, Karl said. Beyond that, there is the potential to develop geothermal systems on Akutan and Adak islands, he said.
The project planThe current project involves placing a geothermal power plant on a plateau on a flank of the Makushin Volcano facing the city. OCCP anticipates using two to three production wells to deliver hot geothermal water into the power plant. Cooled geothermal water that has passed through the plant will be pumped back underground through injection wells for reheating. A 14-mile transmission line will connect the power plant to the city’s power grid. Ounalashka Corp., as the local Native village corporation, owns the land and subsurface rights in the area of the project. From previous exploratory drilling there is a known major source of hot geothermal water underground at the project site.
Karl said that at this point OCCP has obtained all of the required permits for the project and has constructed a required 2.4-mile utility corridor. The company is working with the Department of Energy for the remainder of the project funding and anticipates completing an access right of way to the project site this year. The company recently formed an agreement with geothermal company Ormat Technologies Inc. for Ormat to build the geothermal power plant.
Karl also said that the plan is to move a drilling rig belonging to Chena Power to Unalaska by the end of this year. The concept is to conduct drilling at the geothermal site in 2024, to meet the schedule for the power purchase agreement with the city utility. American Drilling, based in Kenai, will conduct drilling for the project. OCCP anticipates about 140 people working at the geothermal site during the peak of construction. The drilling will require a crew of about 20 people.
Overall, the implementation of geothermal power on Unalaska will achieve the three required pillars of a sustainable community: economic security, ecological integrity and social wellbeing, Karl said.
- ALAN BAILEY