Alaska Villages Get Clean Energy Boost

Alaska turbines Selawik

The Department of Energy will provide technical expertise to five Alaska Native villages to help with clean energy installations and upgrades, energy planning and training over the next six to nine months.

The Native Villages of Kongiganak, Koyukuk, Minto and Shishmaref and the Yakutat T’lingit Tribe will receive help to strengthen wind power infrastructure, develop smart grids, identify opportunities for biomass and solar energy, and improve energy efficiency, among other measures.

The DOE made the awards under the Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) program, which it runs in partnership the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and federal agency the Denali Commission. The program aims to provide tribal communities across the US with technical expertise on clean energy and efficiency technologies, infrastructure development and community capacity building.

This year’s Alaska START villages are also eligible for up to $250,000 in financial assistance to develop local renewable energy or efficiency projects, supported by the department’s Tribal Energy grant program. And the DOE announced it is making $7 million available to support clean energy projects by Native American tribes across the country.

Many Alaska Native villages are struggling to absorb the impact of high energy costs, the DOE says. The cost of energy for these villages has risen threefold in the past 10 years, and families there often spend nearly half their monthly income on home fuel.

Much of rural Alaska relies on diesel fuel, though use of community-scale wind power and diesel-wind hybrids is growing. For example, the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative has installed wind-diesel hybrid systems in nine villages — supporting its goal to offset 25 percent of current fuel levels through renewable energy and efficiency upgrades by 2018.

The DOE has started a partnership with the Alaska Center for Energy and Power to conduct technical and economic analyses of wind-diesel energy systems, and ensure that local workers are trained and employed to operate and maintain these systems.

The US Department of Agriculture is another major funder for rural energy development. It recently called for applications to its Rural Energy for America Program, which provide assistance to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Pictured: Alaska Village Electric Cooperative’s wind turbines at Selawik.

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