• 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
NOME –

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

    AFD conducts water rescue training on Cook Inlet

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 25, 14:37

    The Anchorage Fire Department is warning people not to try and walk from the Anchorage shore across to Fire Island. Authorities say that too often, attempts turn deadly. Anchorage Fireman and their partners from Ted Stevens practiced water rescues Saturday afternoon. They were working with jet skis and a boat. AFD says in the summer, […]

  • News

    Columbus Day to be known as Indigenous Peoples day in Alaska

    by Liz Raines on Jun 25, 14:27

    From now on, Columbus Day in Alaska will be known as Indigenous Peoples day. Gov. Bill Walker signed House Bill 78 into law Saturday, in Utquiagvik, the town formerly known as Barrow. The signing took place at Nalukataq, the Inupiaq whaling festival. The setting was particularly symbolic for many there, where the American, Alaska and Inupiat […]

  • Anchorage’s Swayman, Evingson selected in NHL Draft

    by Dave Leval on Jun 25, 14:20

    Jeremy Swayman’s dad grew up a New York Rangers’ fan. Looks like he will have to root for another “Original Six” team. The Boston Bruins selected Jeremy in the fourth round of Saturday’s NHL Draft. The 18-year-old Anchorage native spent the last two seasons as a goalie with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United […]

  • Sports

    Musher Travis Beals allowed to compete in 2018 Iditarod

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 25, 13:49

    Domestic violence is a big problem in Alaska, and this year, the issue made headlines when it became a focus of the last great race. A musher had to sit out of the Iditarod due to domestic violence charges against him. But now, musher Travis Beals could be back on the trail next March. Beals […]

  • News

    Brown bear mauls cyclist on JBER

    by KTVA Web Staff on Jun 25, 12:43

    The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says a pair of cyclists encountered a bear on JBER Saturday morning. Authorities say the pair came across a brown bear with cubs while cycling on a main gravel road near Clunie Lake. The cyclists used bear spray to fend off the sow, but one cyclist was “knocked […]

  • Statue stands in honor of Iditarod founder

    by Dave Leval on Jun 24, 22:21

    He already has a school named after him, now, there’s another way to honor the man known as the “father of the Iditarod.” It took Palmer artist Pat Garley took roughly 18 months to complete the “Joe Redington, Senior on the Trail” statue that sits outside Redington Junior-Senior High School. The part of Redington weighs […]

  • Rookie musher first to sign up for 2018 Iditarod

    by Dave Leval on Jun 24, 22:19

    Shaynee Traska has what she needs as she prepares for the biggest challenge of her athletic career. The Yukon Quest 300 veteran from Two Rivers wants to play with the big dogs. Traska is the first person to sign up for next year’s Iditarod. “Very surprised, being a big Iditarod sign up day, I thought […]

  • News

    Pride Fest celebrates 40 years in Anchorage

    by Heather Hintze on Jun 24, 18:04

    Hundreds of people turned out in downtown Anchorage for the 40th annual Pride Fest. Mo Haddock and Callene Monasmith set their lawn chairs up early to get a front for the parade. “It’s a lot of fun. We like to people watch anyway but today is very fulfilling. Very heartwarming to see so many people […]