• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 55s

Geothermal energy at Pilgrim Hot Springs could help Nome’s costly power problem

By Alexis Fernandez Photojournalist: John Thain - 7:33 AM November 24, 2014

Alaska’s oil boom days may be more numbered than we realize. Because of this, a popular hot springs near Nome is hoping to tap into an underground heat source to help solve its rising electricity costs.

The site is located on the outskirts of Nome, about 60 miles away in a valley surrounded by mountains.

“It’s a very unique place,” said Kevin Behnke, a longtime Nome resident.

For decades, Alaskans have traveled to this oasis known as Pilgrim Hot Springs.

“I grew up in this area, so my whole family has been here since the ’30s,” said Behnke of the hot springs.

It started as a healing place for Eskimos in the surrounding area. Today, however, locals like Behnke want to use the hot springs for more than just a healing soak — they want to harness it for power.

Residents like Benhke can pay more than three times what people in Anchorage do for electricity (up to 40 cents a kilowatt), primarily because they generate half of it with expensive diesel.

“It’s a seesaw here when it comes to diesel,” said John Handeland, general manager with Nome Joint Utility System. “We do not know from one year to the next what the cost is going to be and we have zero control over it.”

Handeland says during the wintertime, the City of Nome can use up to 6 megawatts of electricity. About half or more comes from wind power generated by turbine farms at Banner Peak. But it’s not consistent.

“It comes at times that are often less than optimal,” he said.

So Handeland is looking back to the place Eskimos used for healing for geothermal energy to supply the other half of the city’s electricity, which would stabilize the costs for residents for years to come.

Gwenn Holdmann with Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been leading a research team to find out if that’s possible.

ACEP drilled a test well this summer, and so far the results are promising.

“So this particular well is drilled to several hundred feet, and it’s capable of producing maybe 300 kilowatts of power,” Holdmann said.

That power would be used for on-site development.

The team is hoping to drill another well nearby that would be capable of producing at least 2 megawatts of electricity that could be delivered to Nome through a 50-mile, $50-million transmission line.

The plant would use a binary system, a type driven by heating liquid. A well would extract the steam from hot water from the earth’s core, transferred to fluid, then used to spin a turbine to create electricity.

This would help control costs for Behnke and help create a stable future for others in Nome.

The next step for Pilgrim Hot Springs is more research this winter. After that, Bering Straits Native Corporation — the owner — will begin seeking private funding from either the state or private investors. BSNC is the managing partner of Unaatuq, LLC, the consortium of village corporations and tribal interests that purchased the property.

So far, the state has spent $3 million on exploration.

Nome Utility has also signed a purchase agreement with the developer, Potelco, a major U.S. supplier of power-generation technology and services.

If all funding is secured, the geothermal power plant could be built as early as next summer.

Bering Straits also hopes to one day use the site to build greenhouses to grow food, and possibly create a tourism industry at the hot springs.

Latest Stories

  • News

    3-year-old sees cop eating alone, so she walks up to his table and sits down

    by Jennifer Earl / CBS News on Mar 29, 17:43

    Sgt. Steven Dearth was taking a quick dinner break when he spotted a little girl in a booth with her family in Panera Bread staring at him. The 3-year-old girl named Lillian was sitting in her dad’s lap when she started waving to the police officer, who works with the Hingham Police Department in Massachusetts. […]

  • Sports

    Freshman Hayden Lieb becomes Bethel’s first All-American wrestler

    by Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK on Mar 29, 17:27

    Freshman Hayden Lieb has become the first Bethel Regional High School (BRHS) wrestler to earn an All-American title, according to a story originally published by KYUK Public Media. The wrestler earned the honor this weekend at the 2017 National High School Coaches Association Tournament in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “This is a big thing,” said Bethel wrestling […]

  • News

    Tsunami warning system test reveals breaks in communication

    by Melissa Frey on Mar 29, 16:57

    A few errors were identified in the state’s tsunami warning system during a state-wide test Wednesday. This test is done every year to make sure the system is working properly, and Wednesday’s test aimed to reach all coastal Alaska communities at risk. Most people heard or saw the signal loud and clear — it was […]

  • News

    UK begins Brexit process, triggers Article 50 to leave EU

    by CBS News on Mar 29, 16:16

    The United Kingdom formally triggered Article 50 and began the process of leaving the European Union on Wednesday, CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti reports. The move will end a 44-year relationship, and Britain’s breakup with the EU may not be pretty. The divorce papers were filed at European Union headquarters in Brussels, after British Prime […]

  • News

    New owner, new look for Title Wave Books

    by Heather Hintze on Mar 29, 16:07

    Title Wave Books is currently home to about a half-million books and Angela Libal is partial to all of them. “Impossible, I could never pick a favorite,” she laughed. “It’s like picking your favorite kid, right?” Libal started working at the bookstore 19 years ago, and now she’s the store’s new owner. She’s making a few […]

  • Politics

    Meet the candidates: District 2 – Seat C – Chugiak/Eagle River

    by Daniella Rivera on Mar 29, 15:36

    KTVA invited every registered candidate running in the upcoming Anchorage municipal election to an on-camera interview at our studios to discuss the following topics: Balancing the budget Public safety Introducing new taxes Addressing homelessness in Anchorage Plans for the future We also asked each candidate to submit a 300-word biography, each of which has been […]

  • Lifestyle

    Video: Spectacular northern lights corona captured in real-time

    by KTVA Web Staff on Mar 29, 15:04

      North Pole photographer Sean Kurdziolek specializes in taking stunning photos of the aurora borealis with clients. He described his process in a 2016 series KTVA produced called “Chasing the Lights.” On an outing with clients Monday, he captured a vivid display of aurora corona dancing overhead in real-time. The display occurred around 1 a.m., […]

  • On-Air

    Teacher of the Week: Wendy Barnes

    by James Gaddis on Mar 29, 13:31

    Wendy Barnes learned as a teenager that you should never take anything for granted. When she was 18 years old, she taught sick kids at a hospital in Chernobyl. She said the experience was an eye opener. Years later, as a kindergarten teacher at Tyson Elementary, that lesson still holds true. “You have no idea […]