Rural Alaska communities to get $16 million in federal energy grants

Jim Nordlund, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development agency, speaks at a press conference announcing $16 million in energy grants for rural Alaska communities. (Photo by Graelyn Brashear, KSKA-Anchorage)
Jim Nordlund, state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency, speaks at a press conference announcing $16 million in energy grants for rural Alaska communities. (Photo by Graelyn Brashear, KSKA-Anchorage)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency today announced more than $16 million in federal grants for energy projects in communities across Alaska. The federal High Energy Cost Grants fund projects in areas where households are paying at least 275 percent of the national average for their energy.

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Nine of this year’s federal grants went to towns, tribal organizations and utilities in rural Alaska. The awards range from $450,000 for the city of Grayling to build a system that will capture and convert heat from its diesel plant to $3 million dollars for Alaska Village Electric Co-op, or AVEC, to develop a grid that will connect towns to a planned wind farm in the Yukon delta.

All the projects focus on the use of alternative energy sources or increasing efficiency—an effort to reduce dependence on diesel.

At a press conference at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage today, AVEC president Meera Koehler said the federal dollars make the difference in a state where the economies of scale for utility projects are so small.

“It’s not as if it’s a gimme or a handout,” she said. “It really is critical to make these projects actually viable.”

Patrick Boonstra works for Intelligent Energy Systems, which is working with the city of Pilot Point on the Alaska Peninsula to install a wind turbine and electric stoves with grant funding. He said funding renewable projects in rural areas is about more than just making energy cheaper.

“It’s not just the new technology that’s very exciting, it’s involvement of the community, building the project, maintaining the project and all the training that goes into the people development and getting to a point where maybe Alaska exports its talent in microgrids, instead of just oil,” Boonstra said.

Grant recipients still have work to do: In order to get their funding, applicants will still need to complete environmental reviews for their projects.

Here’s the full list of grant recipients with details on their projects, as described by the USDA in its press release today:

  • Alaska Power & Telephone Company:  $3 million to build a 1.8 megawatt twin-turbine wind project, and a 10-mile transmission line to connect the villages of Tok, Tetlin, Dot Lake and Tanacross. Currently, these communities are 100 percent diesel dependent.
  • Alaska Village Electric Co-Op:  $3 million to build a 16.1-mile, three-phase overhead power line and upgrade four miles of single-phase distribution line. The overhead power line will connect a yet-to-be-constructed wind farm at Pitka’s Point that will run from Pitka’s Point to St. Mary’s and Mountain Village.
  • City of Grayling:  $449,808 to build a heat recovery system that will capture waste heat from diesel power plant generators and transfer it through a glycol loop to the hydronic system in the City of Grayling’s water treatment plant. The recovery system is expected to reduce the costs ofoperating the water treatment plant.
  • City of Pilot Point:  $842,900 to pay for shipping, installing and integrating a 100 kilowatt (KW) wind turbine and 16 electric thermal stoves into the powersystem in the City of Pilot Point.
  • Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium:  $690,388 to install solar photovoltaic arrays to reduce the operating costs of community water treatment facilities in Allakaket, Beaver, Holy Cross, New Stuyahok, Newhalen, Pitkas Point, Russian Mission and Sleetmute.
  • NANA Regional Corporation:  $1,601,943 to install a battery and grid-forming converter in Buckland and Deering. This project will incorporate wind and solar photovoltaics and will build capacity for future additional photovoltaics to both systems.
  • New Koliganek Village Council:  $2,208,903 to replace the antiquated and undersized diesel electric generation power plant in the village of Koliganek with three John Deere engines, add modest wind generation and fund heat recovery improvements to enhance heating for the community center and school.
  • Asa’carsarmiut Tribe:  $1,308,104 to rehabilitate and weatherize the Asa’carsarmiut Tribe’s office and connect it to a biomass fuel boiler.
  • Naterkaq Light Plant:  $2,937,833 to install three 95 KW wind turbines, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)equipment, a 300 KW load-balancing boiler, 20 electric thermal storage devices and .75 miles of fiber optic upgrades. These systems will be installed in community buildings and residences and connected to the wind turbines via the electric distribution system.