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Renewable Energy Helps Alaska’s Native Village Energy Crisis

85 remote Alaska villages have supported a resolution endorsing a federal renewable electricity standard and other policies that would help them develop their abundant wind, hydro, geothermal, and biomass energy, and reduce their expensive dependence on oil for heat and power.


About the Village Energy Crisis:

With the run up in oil prices in 2008, rural Alaska underwent what was described as “the village energy crisis.” Alaska has remarkable renewable energy resources in the form of wind, wood, running waters and waves, and the heat of the earth’s core, but unfortunately remote villages are almost entirely dependent on diesel to run generators and on heating oil to heat homes. When the delivered cost of diesel climbed north of $6-7/gallon, electrical power in the villages cost 50 cents/kWh or more, perhaps the highest baseload rates in the nation. USA Today reported that “Alaskans in rural areas will spend 40 percent of their annual income on energy this winter compared with 4 percent for the average [urban] Alaska household, according to a University of Alaska Anchorage study published in May.” 

"This has reached a critical point to where we will now have to decide if we are going to feed our young or keep them warm," said Ron Hoffman president and CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents Regional Housing Authority, August 2008. 

How would a national renewable electricity standard (RES) help alleviate the energy crisis?

Developing village-scale renewable energy systems will reduce villages' dependence on oil and the rising costs of oil.  It so happens that one of UCS' top energy policy priorities would help villages develop their renewable energy resources.  The national renewable electricity standard (RES) woudl require utilities to increase their use of wind, solar, biomass, and other clean, renewable energy sources.  In addition, the RES would create a national market for renewable energy that would allow Alaskan villages--or any other generator of renewable energy--to sell renewable energy credits ("RECs") to utilities that need to meet the RES.  Through the sale of RECs, the RES would create “a virtual pipeline of renewable energy” from Alaska to the lower-48.

What is Renewable Energy Already Doing for Alaska?

A few villages are leading the way by reducing their dependence on oil, saving money on their utility bills, and providing reliable heat and power to their people in one of the most extreme climates on earth.

• The New York Times reported: “Advocates of renewable energy here say Alaska, with its windy coasts, untapped rivers and huge tidal and wave resources, could quickly become a national leader.” NYTimes, 2/18/09

• Wind turbines in the village of Toksook Bay have displaced roughly 22 percent of annual diesel fuel costs used to run generators.

• The village of Kasigluk has three Northwind 100-kW turbines with a total generating capacity of 300 kW. Total wind-diesel generating capacity is 1,624 kW. A local power line provides electricity to the community of Nunapitchuk.

• In the village of Ruby along the Yukon River, locals are experimenting with the first in-river hydro generator of its kind. The hydrokinetic generator is bringing in about five kilowatts of energy, which is enough to power three homes. Next year, project planners expect that to increase up to 25 kilowatts, or enough to power 30 homes.  This would cover half of the community's summer power consumption.

See a map of rural locations where the resolution has passed.

Media coverage

Our organizer

Andrea Sanders grew up in Quinhagak, a village of 450 residents near the Bering Sea that is inaccessible by road. “What people don’t understand is that our entire Yupik culture is being affected by the current energy crisis.  Families that can’t afford to heat and power their homes are forced to consider moving to bigger towns or far away cities,” she said. 

Andrea sees that climate change isn’t just threatening Arctic ice and polar bears, but is also threatening traditional hunting and gathering that forms the basis of Native cultures and economies.

Steering committee members

Committee members provided guidance in every aspect of the project, including village outreach, renewable energy technologies, and funding opportunities. Committee members assisted the organizer to "get out the word,” promoting renewable projects and policies. UCS would like to formally thank each of the committee members for their support; we hope each of you will continue to be successful in your important work.

Martina Dabo   -  TDX Power
Anna Davidson -  Alaska Native leader
Mitch Erickson -  Nome Chamber of Commerce
Connie Fredenburg -  TDX Power
Brian Hirsch  -  Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council
Rebakh Luhrs  -  RurAL CAP
Olga M. Malutin -  Sunaq Tribal Member
Mark Masteller -  Alaska Center for Appropriate Technology (ACAT)
Chris Rose  -  Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP)
Deborah Tennyson -  Nushagak Consulting
Mike Williams - Alaska Inter-Tribal Council

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