April 2021 Back Page – Diesel Fuel Diligence

Posted: April 16, 2021

Alaska Village Electric Cooperative is on the forefront of the use of wind energy to provide power in small, isolated electrical grids. We own and operate the largest wind turbine fleet in Alaska consisting of 32 turbines at 14 sites providing power to 20 communities. AVEC has two small solar arrays and is partnering with the Northwest Artic Borough to develop and install solar battery systems to make a significant impact on the diesel consumption for those communities. We strive for a future where renewable generation can make a significant impact for all our communities. But the sun isn’t always shinning, and the wind isn’t always blowing. Today, system wide, renewable generation only contributes 5% of our total power generation. The rest is provided through diesel generation.

Diesel fuel is an almost magical energy source, it can be transported in commonly available materials, it is relatively stable and can be stored for long periods of time without losing its energy value, it remains fluid, (if you chose the right grade), over the broad temperatures we experience in Alaska. And it can be shipped, stored, pumped, and piped to be directed where and when it is needed. All that said, it has obvious flaws. When spilled, diesel fuel has a damaging effect on the environment, when burned the emissions contribute to greenhouse gasses.

Over AVEC’s 50-year history, the reduction of diesel fuel consumption has been an eternal goal. Engineering and Operations continually look for ways to maximize the kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity we can squeeze out of every gallon. Whether it be installing remote radiators with variable speed fans, to reduce the mechanical load on the engine or designing automated control panels that operate the most efficient engine to meet the load, the goal is improved efficiency. By replacing old engines with the most efficient electronic fuel injection models and other power plant modifications AVEC has gone from a systemwide diesel(only) fuel efficiency of 5.9kWh/gal in 1975 to 13.7kWh/gal in 2020.

Yet we still burn 8 million gallons of diesel fuel every year to provide power to the 58 communities we serve, (one third of it in Bethel.) Crews are traveling the state now checking fuel levels in each of our 471 active fuel tanks to verify our fuel orders for the season. When the fuel barge pulls in this summer, Plant Operators will have to be on their toes to be sure all the fuel gets transferred and stored without incident.

As an AVEC Member you can do your part in conserving fuel by being efficient in your use of electricity. Turn off lights, weatherize your home and invest in more efficient appliances. Electricity is a tremendous benefit in providing comfortable living but is comes at a cost of more than just money.


Until next time,

Bill Stamm President and CEO