August 2015 Back Page

Posted: August 5, 2015

— Visit to Our Nation’s Capital:

I was honored to be invited to present to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in July about micro-grids in Alaska. I was one of five presenters along with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Hawaii, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

It was a wonderful opportunity to educate folks about the challenges we face in rural Alaska and I would like to share with you some of the highlights of my remarks.

Alaska’s modest population of 730,000 lives in 325 communities. More than 200 of those communities are essentially islanded micro-grids. This means they are not connected to a larger electric grid—as is virtually every community in the Lower 48 states. AVEC owns and operates 49 power plants to serve its 56 communities.

When communities are islanded, we must maintain significantly more backup generation than grid-connected communities. AVEC must ensure adequate generation in a situation where the largest generator is down for scheduled maintenance and the second largest goes down unexpectedly. AVEC has more than 170 diesel generators to serve its 56 communities.

Because of the redundancy requirement, AVEC has capital investment of five times the national average. This does not include additional investments paid for by grant funds.

AVEC owns the largest fleet of wind turbines in the state at 34. Even though they serve only 15 villages, wind provided more than 6 percent of our total electricity last year and displaced 450,000 gallons of diesel. Installing wind generation costs three times as much as installing diesel generation and is not economically feasible without grant support.

AVEC residential customers use half as much electricity as Alaska’s more urban customers and one-third the electricity used by the U.S. as a whole. The high cost of energy drives efficiency and conservation in rural Alaska.

Alaska needs the help of the federal government in many ways. The federal government developed the transportation network, large-scale generation and the transmission network that makes energy affordable in the Lower 48. Electricity and heating/cooling expenses are a few percentage points of a household’s income, while the lack of those basic infrastructure elements in Alaska has resulted in crippling costs. In rural Alaska, 20 percent of households pay 50 percent or more of their total income on energy.

I asked for support for the Denali Commission and the RUS High Energy Cost Grant Program. I asked that our micro-grids be included for support to improve efficiencies and lower costs. I asked for grant and loan programs to develop renewable sources of energy and other alternatives.

I think the message was received that rural Alaska needs and deserves support from the federal government to improve the energy delivery system and to reduce costs for hundreds of Alaskan communities that are heavily penalized for being off the grid and off the road.

It is always a pleasure to be your spokesperson when it comes to meeting the energy needs of rural Alaska.

Until next time,

Meera Kohler
President and CEO