Clean Energy at Work in St. George, Alaska

City turns to distributed generation in its plan to boost industry and job creation

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Like many rural communities in Alaska, St. George struggles with sustainability. St. George is located on the northeast shore of St. George Island, the southernmost of the four Pribilof Islands, 750 miles west of Anchorage.

Although we are surrounded by a resource that feeds the world, we struggle to maintain jobs for our residents. The lack of components necessary to develop and maintain a sustainable local industry to provide those jobs is a reality that St. George has been actively addressing for generations.

St. George is located in the middle of the most productive seafood harvesting grounds in the world. Millions of dollars are generated by the seafood industry which operates in waters used by residents for thousands of years. The volumes of seafood extracted off the shores of our community are shipped around the world. The residents would like to better participate in that industry. The city of St. George is working to facilitate participation, but lacks essential infrastructure.

What does industry need? We know industry needs reliable transportation, a labor force, access to resource materials and low cost energy. St. George, along with many remote communities, has a higher cost of doing business; for example, fuel costs are astronomical.

To help resolve the energy issues on St. George, the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) created a long-term plan in partnership with our community to address the needs on the island. This included both wind generation and upgrading the diesel generators to become more efficient.

I am pleased to report that the new diesel generators that were installed last fall as part of this project included a heat recovery system that completely heats the St. George school, city offices, and the public safety building. The city and school have little to no need to even turn on their boilers because the heat recovery system is so efficient. The design and implementation by AEA could become a model for all rural villages looking to combat the ever-rising energy costs. The efficiency of the system is monitored using the latest technology available. AEA set the system up with an Internet based load control system. The trained and certified technicians based in Anchorage monitor and adjust the load required by the generators 24/7. They turn down the generators to nearly idle when the need is low, and increase output when the need increases throughout the day. This ability to monitor the load maximizes fuel efficiency, which lowers the overall cost of fuel consumed.

Alaska has quickly become a global leader in remote wind diesel systems. The Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are home to the strongest, highest quality and consistent wind regimes in the country. The AEA measured winds with maximum entropy principle (MEP) towers for four years to get solid reliable data prior to embarking on the turbine project. The scale used to determine the viability of wind power generation is measured on a scale of one to seven; St. George scored a seven. This month the completion of controllers and communications software will allow a 95 Kw refurbished Windmatic turbine to be integrated into the existing power grid, providing more than half of the community’s electricity needs and significantly reducing the current $1/Kwh residential rate. The diesel power system was designed in conjunction with the Rural Power System Upgrade (RPSU) division of AEA.

Reliable low-cost energy is essential for St. George and other rural communities throughout our state. We applaud AEA’s vision and commitment to making significant clean and economical improvements to the electrical infrastructure on our island. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the outstanding professionalism and passion of three AEA staff members in particular who truly went above and beyond to make this critical project happen — Sara Fisher- Goad, Sandra Moller and the project manager, Tim Sandstrom. Our strong and productive partnership with AEA produced great energy improvements that will make St. George more competitive in the regional fishery economy and help to stabilize our community.