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Kake checks out wind, solar, wood options

Guy-wires are adjusted for a test tower raised near Kake. Equipment on the tower measured wind, showing potential for energy production. Photo courtesy SEACC.

The Southeast village of Kake is taking a serious look at alternative energy. It’s one of five Alaska communities in a federal program providing technical assistance to speed clean energy development.

Kake, on northwest Kupreanof Island, has searched for energy solutions for decades.

Much of the focus has been on a powerline to Petersburg, which could substantially reduce the price of electricity. But that will cost tens of millions of dollars, and could take years to complete.

So, the village of 500 to 600 is considering alternatives, such as solar, wind, woody biomass and small hydro.

“We’re certainly going to look at all of the above,” says Gary Williams, executive director of the Organized Village of Kake.

The tribal government was recently selected for research and planning support by the U.S. Energy Department’s Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team.

“We’re working with others in the community to look at our energy picture, not only for electricity but overall energy. So that we can hopefully either reduce our use or the cost of energy and, of course, increase our local capacity,” he says.

Kake is already looking at wind power.

The tribal government and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council installed a 110-foot-tall test tower about two years ago. It measured speed and duration to determine whether a wind plant would work.

The results were positive. But SEACC’s Dan Lesh says the location was not practical.

“If you were close to an electrical grid, that would probably be something that you’d be looking at developing. But that one’s about 8 miles from town, so the construction of that type of transmission line would be hard to justify,” Lesh says.

Funds from the federal program, partnered with the Denali Commission, will help move the test tower closer to town.

Many Kake homes use heat with wood to save on fuel oil or electricity.

Brian Hirsch, project leader for Alaska’s branch of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, says that could be expanded.

“What we would maybe be looking at is some wood energy for their larger buildings, whether it’s their school or their community center or their tribal hall, etc,” Hirsch says.

Some Southeast schools and homes have installed wood-powered boilers, using leftovers from logging, milling or tree-thinning.

Kake is one of five Alaska Native villages chosen to be part of the federal clean-energy program. He says it could become a testing ground for Southeast.

“I think they are a demonstration of how rural Alaska can work successfully. And they’ve had previous events around energy issues, so they’ve shown a lot of initiative. They have several studies and reports that they’ve done. And they’re clearly on the ball and pushing the envelope and pretty ambitious about solving their energy problems,” he says.

The Organized Village of Kake is also exploring energy from the sun. Test solar panels funded through a separate program will be installed this summer.

Officials also are looking at insulation and other efficiency efforts that would reduce the need for diesel or electrical power. The tribal government’s Williams say that’s an ongoing effort.

“People are already energy-conscious, but we need to help them tighten things and button things up even more,” Williams says.

The overall effort could reduce demand on diesel-powered generators. But it’s not likely to fill all of the community’s needs.

Kake officials have been working with the Southeast Conference and state officials for years to build an intertie to Petersburg. That would link the village with southern Southeast’s hydro-powered electrical grid. (Hear a report on the intertie project.)

Williams says all the efforts could help the shrinking community grow again.

“If we can get affordable energy over here, Kake is very strategically located and certainly has a lot of resources around it, then it would jump-start our economy again,” Williams says.

The Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team is working with four other village tribal governments. They are Arctic Village, north of Fort Yukon; Quinhagak, southwest of Bethel; Teller, northwest of Nome, and Venetie, northwest of Fort Yukon.

Watch a SEACC video about the wind tower:

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