This story originated from KYUK Public Media and was republished with permission.
BETHEL — The Association of Village Council Presidents kicked off a busy week with an all-day Bethel workshop focused on improving how energy is used in Western Alaska.
At yesterday’s workshop, one elder compared energy in the region to a family: a series of intricate connections, constantly maintained and entering into every aspect of Western Alaskan life. Natalie Hanson, with Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative, presented a survey done to determine what changes people in the region might want in their relationship with energy.
“People want workforce development in the energy industry, they want energy efficiency, they want options for energy efficiency programs for their homes, for their businesses,” Hanson said.
Hanson says that people in Western Alaska seem to understand that being energy efficient is not only good for the environment, but has the potential to create jobs in the region and make the cost of electricity go down. And that’s where Jessie Huff with the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes in.
“For me, it’s about finding people that have a project that they’re trying to do, and finding a way to help them,” Huff said.
Huff works in the USDA Office of Rural Development, and gives money to communities that want to move toward greater energy efficiency.
“People don’t even know to call our office, so going to an event like this is where you hear about the projects that people need funding for, or need assistance with,” said Huff.
Huff says many grants go unused because people don’t know they’re out there.
Calista Corporation unveiled a new grant funded project to identify and treat energy needs across the region. George Owletuck, government liaison, presented the Calista Energy Management Assistance Initiative.
“We don’t know exactly, on an individual household level, the consumption of electricity. We don’t know the cost of heating those homes,” Owletuck said.
Owletuck says that accumulating the data is the first step. Without knowing what the need is, no one can do anything. Once the needs are identified, though, Calista has big plans to meet them.
“We can, at some point, eliminate diesel generators and the tank farms that fuel those generators with wind, solar, and other types of region-wide energy infrastructure,” Owletuck said.
Calista is also planning a capacity building component for managing new equipment – something that would move toward the workforce development that people say they want to see in the villages.