Alaska Opens Its First Geothermal Power Plant

Chena Hot Springs, just outside Fairbanks, is the first geothermal power plant to come online in Alaska. Announced by Chena Hot Springs/Chena Power and United Technologies, the site is also the site of the lowest temperature resource (165 degrees F) ever used for commercial power generation in the world, noted Bernie Karl, proprietor of the Chena Hot Springs Resort.

“This project represents a major milestone in the utilization of low temperature geothermal resources,” commented Gwen Holdmann, vice president for new development of the resort. Chena is the first geothermal distributed generation project allowing the resort to meet its power needs without relying on a utility grid, and is expected to open the door for similar projects at spas, greenhouses and other geothermal sites around the world. Karl Gawell of the Geothermal Energy Association, noted, “As technology advances to allow lower temperature generation, it will dramatically expand the potential for new geothermal power development.” Regarding the potential for the new technology, Gawell said that “if every producing oil and gas well in Texas alone used this technology, the same power generation technology being tested right now at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska, we could generate 5,000 MW of power from this renewable geothermal resource.” The Chena Hot Springs geothermal power plant is currently operating as the base load for the site, and United Technologies representatives are on hand completing performance tests by varying the hot and cold water flow rates. The Chena power plant is running off 162.5 F hot water from a 700-foot deep well. The cooling water source is from a cold water well at a higher elevation than the power plant, and is delivered via siphon (gravity feed). This means no pump is needed to move the cold water through the power plant, reducing the parasitic load on the plant. The total cost of the project, including onsite infrastructure, is $5 million, with 25% from DOE, 25% from United Technologies Corporation, and the rest from Chena and the Alaska Energy Authority.

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