It’s that time of year — time to switch on the heat. In some rural homes, that will cost thousands of dollars. It’s the kind of electric bill that has people in Southeast Alaska getting creative.

With its hot springs and tons of wildlife, Tenakee Springs is a place some people call paradise, but living on an isolated island comes at a price. Now, residents there are turning to nature to keep costs down.

The town, just 55 air miles outside of Alaska’s capitol city, was founded on scenic landscapes and a simple way of life. But there, simple is expensive. The costs of heat and electricity are five times higher than in Juneau.

That is, until one of Tenakee Springs’ 60 full-time residents discovered a hot opportunity — that smells.

“Back then I could still smell the sulfur from the springs,” Kevin Allred said. “I thought, ‘wow, you could heat a house with this stuff!'”

For years, Allred’s been using the town’s famous hot springs to heat buildings for free, bringing annual electric bills down from the thousand-dollar range to just pocket change for equipment maintenance.

“This might take $5 to heat a year, it will be great,” Allred said of his project to heat the town’s new museum using geothermal energy.

From the ground to the sky, Tenakee Springs has many innovators. Jed McBeen has managed to power his house with solar panels in a rainforest that gets four times more annual rainfall than Anchorage.

“In the summer, it covers all of our power needs,” McBeen said.

In the fall and spring, McBeen supplements his power with hydro energy from a creek. Tenakee Springs wants to do something similar with its Indian River. The town’s hydroelectric project has been in the works for more than a decade.

“We’re projecting displacing $120,000 or $100,000 worth of diesel fuel a year,” explained Art Bloom, the city’s representative for the hydroelectric project.

But funding to finish the project recently ran out.

“There isn’t any way that a town this size could, you know, do a bond levy or something, and pay for the $3 million we need ourselves,” said Tenakee Springs Mayor John Wisenbaugh, adding that the town will have to look for state or federal assistance.

If money weren’t a problem, Tenakee Springs residents could truly live off of the land, independent of oil.

“We know that it’s going to run out, it’s just a matter of when,” Allred said.

Allred’s vision is shared by many of those who chose to leave the urban mindset behind to move to Tenakee Springs.

KTVA 11’s Liz Raines can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

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