Just after sunrise, the icy hoar frost clinging to the willow branches in the Tanana River Valley begin to shudder. At first, the wind comes in a light zephyr. Branches lazily sway; a few ice crystals lose hold and fall from their perch, catching the rosy dawn light, making the morning air sparkle. Within an hour’s time, a powerful gale is blowing. The air fills with fine, crystalline powder and snowdrifts form on the leeward side of every bump and rise. The wind will not stop for weeks. All the critters in the valley will forget that there was ever a time when the world didn’t scream and hurt.
What if we could harness that power? What if every Alaskan home had so much cheap energy that we could heat our homes with electricity, charge our cars and trucks with electricity, light our streets, power our schools, public buildings, and illuminate brilliant minds set on making Alaska a better place for future generations? What if our power came from wind that doesn’t become more or less expensive because of the whimsy of distant market forces? Cheap, consistent, reliable wind is what Alaska has in abundance. What if we tapped into it?
“I’m always assigning myself difficult but entertaining problems to solve in my spare time, as a hobby.” Kerry says. “When I retired fifteen years ago, I decided that the problem that most needed solving was how to get Alaska’s post-oil economy stabilized.” No small task. But for someone with 4 standard deviations above the normal IQ and an active member of several international high IQ organizations, for Kerry, this is just another day in the life; another challenge to be met.
“My proposed Eklutna Complex is nothing more than a gigantic rechargeable battery."
“The original conventional method is to overbuild the generation, and shut off or dump excess power. Even conventional energy resources don’t have 100% availability (called the capacity factor), which is why excess generation capacity is always required,” he says. “Another method of leveling the power output of variable resources, such as wind, is to link together widely separated sources. That way, when the wind stops blowing at one wind farm, the others keep feeding the grid. The wind doesn’t stop blowing everywhere at once.”
Besides having plentiful alternative energy potential, Alaska has other unique assets: gobs of freshwater and high elevation mountains. “My proposed Eklutna Complex is nothing more than a gigantic rechargeable battery. It takes in variable randomly generated energy, and dispenses energy to match demand. In terms of MWh capacity,” Kerry says, “the second phase would make it the largest in the world. In terms of total output capacity, a fourth phase could bring it to the largest capacity in the world also, all without harm to Eklutna Lake’s elevation or it’s renewed salmon run or it’s recreational values.”
This plan proposes to build a 6000 acre-feet freshwater reservoir below East Twin Peak, on the south bank of the Knik River. The massive Knik Glacier and its river is capable of providing large volumes of water and because of the glaciers massive size and geographical location, it is not in danger of going extinct because of global warming anytime soon.
The next thing to focus our most talented engineering minds on is the study of Kerry’s proposed high elevation impounds, e.g. dams, above Eklutna Lake and then building them. Kerry has identified five ideal, high elevation valleys, which are perfect locations for enough high altitude water energy storage to light, heat, and drive the entire rail-belt for months. By pumping water up to these reservoirs, through tunnels in the mountains, when there is surplus energy, this project would be an energy savings account—a literal rainy day fund.
Talking with Kerry, several things jump out to me. As a fellow life-long Alaskan, I have come to take it for granted that Alaskans are quite often modern day Renaissance women and men—handy and capable in numerous and often widely divergent skill-sets. The ability to swap a transmission out of a Ford F-150, design and build a home, develop a website, weld a bicycle frame back together, hunt, fish, and grow a garden, and play Bach on a classical guitar, for example, is just who we are. We also do not know how to take no for an answer. When there is a problem in front of us, Alaskan’s get to work and fix the goddamn thing—whatever it is.
Throughout his working years, Kerry has accumulated a robust construction background including large projects, like TAPS, some oil field, flood control projects, harbors, energy project research, design and consulting in solar, wind, electric transportation, and geothermal projects and has been Chief engineer on an electric vehicle project.
But something unique about Alaskans is that when we are asked, “What do you do?” we often don’t highlight how we make money. What we do is what inspires us and how we want others to think of us. For Kerry, many years of hiking, biking, skiing, hang-gliding, photographing, paragliding, fishing, and many other activities within Chugach State Park have given him a great appreciation for the place, a sense of identity and a strong desire to care for and enhance the natural attributes to the best of his ability. Kerry currently lives within walking distance of the Park and has a deep reverence for the natural environment of his backyard and the state as a whole. Kerry is an environmentalist.
When I ask him what comes next, he says, “I haven’t a clue. But I hope if it has legs that I will at least get to sit on the most appropriate commission(s) or engineering and design team(s) to help guide it. The legislature needs to act to enable the project.”
It is clear, after spending time with Kerry, asking lots of questions, looking at his Google Earth mock-up, and trying to stump him with my inquiries, that it is time for his project to leave the nest. What this proposal needs now is an army of smart people to rip it apart, find the flaws, improve on it—what this project needs now is peer review and investment.
What would rate payers pay per kilowatt-hour, I asked him? Without flinching, he has an answer and I realize, again, I am in the presence of someone way, way smarter than me. “After we’re at 100%” he has calculated, “and have paid off the bonds, it should drop to around $0.08 kWh, except for homeowners and businesses who cover their roofs with solar panels. They would pay considerably less, or even profit if they generate more than they use.” Right now, MEA customers pay about $0.20 kWh, and Golden Valley members pay $0.21.
Another massive issue typically associated with large hydro projects is their potential devastating impacts on salmon and other fish species. In this instance it will be, in matter of fact, just the opposite. “It was the issue which started my investigation into turning Eklutna hydro into a pumped hydro energy storage complex,” Kerry tells me. “Because excessive water from Eklutna Lake is being used for hydroelectric power, the lake has not naturally drained for years. (That, and an older dam lower on Eklutna River, which was recently removed.) Doing the first stage of a conversion—swapping the turbine generators for reversible flow turbine/pumps—would enable us to keep Eklutna Lake filled and allow salmon to return. It would enhance the entire State Park by returning that lake to it’s historical level, and would lower our utility rates by about a penny per kWh instantly by replacing the very expensive gas fueled peaker plant operations. Excessive peaker plant operation is the cited reason for denying expanded wind farm and solar energy for rail-belt utilities.”
Environmentalists are often called C.A.V.E. people—Citizens Against Virtually Everything. My retort to that is, “Show me a project that works with the natural world rather than despoils it for short-term profit.” This is a mega-project that all Alaskans, regardless of political affiliation, can get behind.
For as long as I can remember, we have been offered a phony dichotomy: we can choose—the thinking goes—between either a healthy environment,or jobs and a robust economy. This notion is poppycock!
Kerry’s proposal would, in his words, “…provide two to four times as much as we need to power everything from Fairbanks or Tanana, Anchorage, to Homer.” This mega-project would provide countless construction jobs and long-term maintenance jobs. Furthermore, Alaska would become an incredibly attractive place for business to invest. Imagine Internet companies buying our cheap renewable energy and using glacier air to cool their massive servers. But I digress.
It is time to come together as Alaskans to fight climate change, defend our way of life and embolden the industries of the future. Kerry Williams and his pumped hydro project is a part of that future and, like the wild of Alaska, it is calling us to action.
Kerry William’s pumped hydro project is ready to leave the nest. It needs peer review, further study and will need the approval of the legislature and financial backing to bring it to the next stage. If you, or someone you know, has expertise, please contact us. Also, if you are a media outlet wishing to run a story about Kerry and or his project, submit inquiries here.