Saturday, May 18, 2013
Northwest Villages Work to Become Energy-Wise
NANA and RurAL CAP team up to help families during cold winter months
The struggle to heat your home, cook your food and put fuel in your vehicle almost becomes a battle when you live in rural Alaska. In the Upper Kobuk region, some families spend as much as $700 a month to do those things.
Photojournalist John Thain and I recently had the opportunity to see some of that firsthand when we traveled to Shungnak to see how NANA Regional Corporation and RurAL CAP have teamed up to start a program to help families in the area become “energy-wise.”
NANA paid for our trip.
When it’s 38 degrees below zero, like the day we were there, you need all the energy-saving tips you can get.
Shungnak is home to about 300 people. Susie Sun and her family have lived here for four generations. In recent hears, her neighbors moved out – part of a rural-to-urban mass migration. Sun almost left as well.
Fuel powers almost everything in Shungnak. Basic activities like keeping the lights on, cooking lunch and watching TV are 271% more expensive in Shungnak than in Anchorage. Which means Sun can make almost three pots of caribou stew in Anchorage for the same price it costs her to make one pot of that same stew in Shungnak.
Jamey Gilila is training some of her young neighbors to go through every inch of her house to help her cut back on electricity costs as part of RurAL CAP’s “Energy-Wise Program,” which is funded by NANA Regional Corporation. The idea is to train and pay locals to become more energy efficient.
The crew then passes that knowledge on to neighbors, like Sun, with home inspections.
The cost of living in Shungnak is on the rise. The price of fuel has gone up because it has to be flown up from Fairbanks.
On average, Shungnak residents spend about half of their income on energy. So to continue to live in Shungnak, you have to be efficient.
harry 0:23:29 I would say about 10 years ago when the river started drying up, we couldn’t get the barge up here so now the price change on the fuel to a higher price. (nat jamie "higher and higher") 0:26:41 If you’re going hunting at $8.99 a gallon of gas you have to save a lot of money. You have to know where the animals are
Living on a fixed income, Sun says, every bit of savings helps, and makes it easier to afford to stay in the village her ancestors called home for centuries.
RurAL CAP and NANA will take the energy-wise program to other villages as well: Ambler, Buckland, Noorvik, Noatak and Kivalina.
Here’s a point of comparison for you: Shungnak residents pay 38 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. In Anchorage, it’s about 14 cents per kilowatt hour.