New diesel power plants in two Bristol Bay communities were on a list of Denali Commission projects announced alongside President Obama’s visit a month ago. Long-expected power plant projects in Togiak and Koliganek are still in early stages.
Since 2000, the Denali Commission has partnered with the Alaska Energy Authority and the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, working down a list of communities to receive bulk fuel and power plant projects.
Joel Neimeyer is the federal co-chair of the Denali Commission. He says the Togiak and Koliganek projects have been on the docket since long before the White House announcement.
“The commissioners review a prioritized list and they say ‘yes to this,’ ‘no to that,’ and they assigned a large portion of our fiscal year ’15 money to power plant projects,” explained Neimeyer. “And Togiak was on the list before Koliganek. So that obviously meant we had to fund Togiak first, then Koliganek next.”
Neimeyer explained that Denali Commission energy projects get funding from a mix of sources.
“Not only Denali Commission money, but also the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Services funding,” explained Neimeyer.
The Commission generally funds about 80% of each project, sometimes with the addition of a USDA grant. Then the partner agency – either AEA or AVEC – covers the remainder.
In the case of Togiak’s new diesel plant, AVEC will contribute just over $1 million dollars, adding to $5.6 million from the Denali Commission.
Togiak City Administrator Darryl Thompson says the city has been looking forward to having a more efficient diesel plant for several years now.
“Our power plant is kind of a pieced-together series of modules that we keep repairing so we can have power, but we do need a new power plant,” said Thompson.
Thompson says the new plant will be located near the old schoolyard on a site that the City donated to AVEC. He says the new plant is actually the first piece in a slew of projects planned to meet the area’s energy demands.
“What AVEC had envisioned was a power plant, tank farm, connectivity to Twin Hills by transmission line,” says Thompson. “So that whole project is penciled in at $18 million dollars, so at least the power plant is a start, and maybe we’ll get funding in the future to complete the rest of the projects.”
The new diesel plant is in the final design phase now, and Thompson hopes construction will start in 2016.
In Koliganek, power plant construction is a little farther off.
“We are really in infancy stage of this project, and have named a project manager on our end,” says Emily Ford, the energy policy and outreach manager at the Alaska Energy Authority, the state partner for the Koliganek project. She says the AEA hopes to start coordinating with the village soon.
Though a White House press release in early September outlined grant sources for the Koliganek power project, the last bit of funding — $300,000 from the USDA – didn’t come in until several weeks later.
“The total budget allocated so far – and this includes the Denali Commission and state funds – is 3,850,000 dollars – and roughly 3.1M of that is Denali Commission funds.”
The Alaska Energy Authority will provide the 20% cost-share match. Ford says if all goes well, construction will begin in Koliganek in 2017.
In another project separate from Denali Commission funds, Ford says the AEA is also looking at wind energy in Koliganek. In 2011, the AEA granted the New Koliganek Village Council $105,000 dollars to study the feasibility of installing wind turbines. That report is due out at the end of this year.
Also announced in the White House’s Denali Commission press release was a power plant project in Pilot Station.