Kwethluk gets new battery storage project that might help it wean from diesel

Kwethluk is partnering with Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative to build a battery storage system. It will keep the power on during outages, and could one day help wean the community off diesel fuel. 

Last year, Tuluksak residents endured several multi-day power outages where many residents lost subsistence food that was stored in freezers. Leaders in nearby Kwethluk want to avoid a similar disaster. 

Kwethluk and Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative have $477,050 from the Department of Energy to build a 675 KWh lithium-ion battery. Kwethluk had to match 50 percent of the funds. 

“Basically it’s for promoting community resilience for community facilities and tribal members,” said Natalie Hanson, Nuvista’s executive director.

A battery that size has enough power to light up every home in Kwethluk for an hour during its highest demand. Or it can keep a couple of critical buildings, like the health clinic and community hall, going for more than two hours. Hanson estimates that the project will create two temporary jobs for locals.

In the future, Nuvista hopes to include wind energy. Battery storage is necessary to move the village off of costly diesel fuel because it can store extra wind energy to use later, and smooth out any fluctuations from too much electricity flowing through the power lines at one time. 

“You don’t have storage, you always have to have your diesel on, running low, so you are always using some amount of diesel,” Hanson said. 

Hanson says that a wind farm proposal for Kwethluk is under review by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, but it’s likely that the battery will arrive first.

This project is similar to ones in Kongiganak and Kwigillingok. Kongiganak installed a lithium-ion battery so that it could meet half of its energy needs with wind. This month, Sen. Lisa Murkowski visited both of those villages with Energy Department Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette to show off those projects. In a statement, Murkowski said that it was “a great opportunity for Dan to visit more of Alaska, to see firsthand how we contribute to our nation’s energy security, and to learn about the innovation taking place throughout our state.”