Thursday 7 September 2017

Renewable Energy Success Stories from Indigenous and Remote Communities in Alaska

Fire Island wind turbine

The School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Saskatchewan, in conjunction with Saskatchewan Polytechnic held a one-day public symposium on Renewable Energy in Remote and Indigenous Communities on September 5 in Saskatoon. 

The symposium was the first step towards creating “the world’s first global consortium focused on addressing the challenges and possibilities associated with renewable energy in remote and Indigenous communities. . . . Investment in the renewable energy sector provides an enormous opportunity to address local energy needs and increase quality of life, while meeting regional, national and international emissions targets. Our work will not only produce critical research and innovation in the field of renewable energy, but help Indigenous and remote communities enjoy the benefits of stable power sources.”

See also: The Future of Renewable Energy in Indigenous and Remote Communities

AVEC wind tower crew travel arrangements

The Alaska Experience 
The symposium’s first panel was composed of three people from Alaska: Gwen Holdmann, Director, Alaska Center for Energy and Power; Meera Kohler, CEO, Alaska Village Electric Cooperative; and Ethan Schutt, Senior Vice-President Land and Energy Development, Cook Inlet Region Incorporated.

Gwen Holdmann explained that Alaska is twice the size of Texas with a dispersed population, fragmented grid, a limited road network, a harsh and changing climate, stranded resources, and at the end of supply lines. 200 to 250 communities are not connected to the grid, and there are over 92 utilities (village and regional, profit and not-for-profit).

Alaska has made a stronger per capita investment in renewable energy than other states with a strong focus on wind energy. Initiatives have been community-driven: “That’s how we operate in Alaska” Holdmann says. Alaska's Renewable Energy Fund has played a key role in financing project start-ups.

AVEC tug and barge sets

Alaska Village Electric Cooperative 
The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) was established in 1967 and now incorporates 11,000 meters, 50 geographically dispersed communities, 50 power plants, 8.5 million gallons of diesel, 34 wind turbines, and 2 solar PV arrays. They operate two tug and barge sets to deliver diesel fuel to communities; fuel is flown in to 3 other communities. They are currently setting up additional wind turbines and hope to produce 2900 KW of wind energy in 2018. Their goal is to reduce diesel by 35% in the next 3 years.

Meera Kohler explained that AVEC’s key challenges are small power plants with low generation efficiencies, a lack of technical resources and manpower, the high cost of fuel, lack of capital for renewals and overhauls, and alternative technology that is too expensive to operate and maintain. 

AVEC “officials see hybrid microgrids, harnessing renewable energy and emerging technologies as keys to cost stability and savings to its members.”

Fire Island Wind

Fire Island Wind
Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI) is one of 12 land-based Alaska Native regional corporations created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. CIRI’s mission is to promote the economic and social well-being, native heritage, and self-sufficiency of its 8,800 Native shareholders.

It operates a number of different energy projects. One of these is Fire Island Wind. 11 turbines on an island 3 miles off the coast of Anchorage supply energy to Alaska’s largest city. The project began delivering energy in 2012 and has the capacity to deliver energy to 7,000 homes.

Ethan Schutt says that Fire Island Wind faces some unique challenges. The only access is by plane or barge, and they have an insurance policy to cover lost production as winter repairs would be difficult. Laying the underwater transmission line was a complex process. Plans for a second phase have so far been unsuccessful. On the positive side, most of the energy is produced in winter when heavier loads of energy are required.

Fire Island Wind

Cordova Electric Cooperative
Representatives of Cordova Electric Cooperative also participated in the symposium. Cordova Electric Cooperative is the sole provider of electricity to an isolated coastal community. The Cooperative is member owned and operates a diesel plant and two hydroelectric plants. It has an underground electrical system to ensure reliability during wind, snow, and ice storms and has a strong focus on conservation and energy efficiency to reduce the community’s use of diesel fuel.

Local Initiatives
Saskatchewan Environmental Society Solar Co-operative
First Nations Power Authority