Borrowed money for clean energy: $125 million in federal funding pegged for 1,000 rural Alaskans

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The Department of Energy will spend $125.1 million for five energy development projects in rural Alaska. DOE awarded the funds under its Energy Improvement in Rural or Remote Areas program, authored in large part by Sen. Lisa Murkowski as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

The math is breathtaking: For the 1,000 Alaskans served by these hydro, solar, and battery projects, the federal government is spending $125,000 per rural resident.

The program is aimed at improving “resilience, reliability, and affordability of energy systems in communities across the country with 10,000 or fewer people.”

The Alaska projects selected for funding include:

  • Chignik Hydroelectric Dam and Water Source Project led by the Lake and Peninsula Borough (Chignik Bay)—up to $7.3 million. The project will replace 100% of the community’s diesel consumption with renewable energy, and reduce energy burden.
  • Clean Energy in the Northwest Arctic led by the Northwest Arctic Borough—up to $54.8 million. This project aims to install over 4 MW of solar PV, over 7.1 MWh of battery storage systems, and approximately 850 heat pumps across the Northwest Arctic region. This project seeks to replace a 10-mile, overhead, distribution tie-line between the villages of Kobuk and Shungnak, allowing for greater interconnection in this remote region. Each of the 10 solar and battery storage projects will be owned and maintained by 11 federally recognized Alaska Native Villages, who will act as Independent Power Producers (IPP). 
  • Alaskan Tribal Energy Sovereignty led by the Tanana Chiefs Conference (Nulato, Huslia, Minto, Kaltag, Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk, Holy Cross)—up to $26.1 million. The project will strive to offset the region’s diesel consumption by 40%, which will lower energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,550 metric tons per year over the project’s 25-year lifespan, the Department of Energy says.
  • Old Harbor Hydroelectric Project led by the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor (Old Harbor)—up to $10 million. This project plans to construct a run-of-the-river hydroelectric facility with a diversion structure, pipeline, powerhouse, and electric transmission line in Old Harbor on Kodiak Island. It is anticipated that the project will be capable of generating about 3,470 MWh of energy annually and offset diesel fuel use at the local power plant by 95%, enabling a year-round reliable energy source. 
  • Thayer Creek Hydroelectric Project led by Kootznoowoo, Inc. (Angoon)—up to $26.9 million. This project encompasses an 850-kilowatt, run-of-the-river hydroelectric project that has the potential to supply three times the community’s current electricity needs, providing additional power for heating, fish processing, electric vehicle charging, and tourism. Kootznoowoo, Incorporated (KI) is the Alaska Native Village Corporation for the community of Angoon, population 357 residents. The cost per resident is $75,630.

These projects will facilitate the development of more of Alaska’s abundant hydropower resources, solar energy, battery storage systems, heat pumps, electric interconnection, and more, the Department of Energy says. More information about the awards is available on DOE’s website.

While rural Alaska is getting hydropower, the Anchorage Assembly is trying to rip out the existing Eklutna hydropower project.

Rick Whitbeck, Alaska state director of Power The Future, noted the inconsistency, saying, “Hydro that replaces higher-cost energy in rural Alaska is wonderful but the lowest cost electricity in Southcentral is somehow evil? You’d think the eco-Left could be more consistent, but logic is not their strong suit.”

To date, roughly $7.4 billion from the bipartisan infrastructure law has been announced for Alaska, with over 1,600 projects identified for funding and investment around the state. That’s $10,100 of federal funding — and much of that is federal debt — for every Alaskan. Similar results can be found across the country.

Statista, a business data website, shows that in 2023, Alaska, even with its small population of about 733,000, did better than states with far larger populations in terms of obtaining these federal infrastructure dollars:

Statistic: Funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the United States in the fiscal year of 2023, by state (in billion U.S. dollars) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

33 COMMENTS

  1. You know, if we’re gonna pump free money into the Bush for energy, perhaps we ought to be installing Gen IV nukes. Lisa’s Eielson reactor is in the $60 million range and will produce 5 MW electric, about the same energy used by Bethel. It requires no storage. Output is continuous. And it produces perhaps another 10 MW thermal energy which is useful in the cold country.

    Once DoD figures out how to award contracts, perhaps we can start rolling out a handful of mini-nukes in Alaska. Start with the various military installations after Eielson including Clear, JBER, even Adak. Then start installing them in the larger hub Bush villages. Simple solution. Constant, reliable energy. Cheers –

      • Hasn’t been scrubbed. Contract for it was pulled based on complaints the contract was improperly awarded. Still in process. Should see a contract as soon as DoD figures out how to award contracts. Cheers –

    • Didn’t they just push back the demonstration for operational testing for these small nukes from 2027 to an undetermined future date? I know they completely axed one that was supposed to be in commercial operation in Utah by 2029 due to a more than doubling of costs. And where will these yet unproven designs be getting their uranium from now that Russia won’t be supplying it? Seems like DoD is in no hurry to rollout a small experimental nuke program that will cost more than the promised price tag, and if they won’t waste money on it then nobody who has their own money to spend would ever waste it like that.

    • The single rod nuke that eielson wants won’t replace the power plant. I believe it was two years ago the legislature said no to this for rural alaska. Why not? Because the right palms weren’t gonna recieve the grease they desired.

  2. I’m good with bringing better power and technology to the bush, but there has to be a cheaper alternative.

    Princess is paying off the bush for her re election. Grunting and rooting at the public trough.

  3. The math doesn’t work, oh I overlooked the dollers going to Lisa, and her Dem buddy’s, this generation of taxpayers are never going to dig their way out of this, no tax dollars coming from the benefit people more free to non workers, on the backs of us who are trying to get by on retirement pensions, term limits!!!

    • What’s the replacement costs for the battery’s?
      What’s the maintenance cost to run these part time power grids ?
      When do the dams get tore out for the restoration of the river and fish?

  4. Lets assume using over a hundred million in borrowed money for these projects is a good thing. These infrastructure investments require careful maintenance or they fail in short order. How many of these projects will be junk within five years of start up? There just isn’t the expertise in many of these rural areas to conduct the proper maintenance. The continuing subsidies for these small villages with less than 100 residents is a boondoggle. And it is spending money we do not have. A $34 trillion dollar national debt with interest payments that will soon run $800 billion per year is a disaster.

  5. Price is no object. Just bring home the federal bacon. Nothing else matters. Not my problem. And everybody else is doing it anyway. You’re a sucker if you fight it or say no to “free money” Deficit spending? Who cares. We want, what we want, when we want it.

  6. Printing money for a solar power system in the Arctic, where there is limited sun in the months when power is most necessary…..ignorance and graft no no bounds. Printing money for ANY purpose, at this point of $34 trillion debt, is only going to further economically destroy the lives of the people paying the bills in this country. For $125,000.00 each, you could move all these people to where the power is, see Sam Kinison.

  7. There were once many gold rush towns in Alaska. But when the economy died for these towns …. they were abandoned. Same with copper and fish packing settlements. No economy, no sense in supporting a village. So why doesn’t this basic law of economics apply to the Bush? If a place doesn’t have an underlying economy, why keep showering the place with borrowed money that other people will pay for? Why aren’t Bush settlements being abandoned? They should be.

    • Why doesn’t this sense apply to Juneau also? I remember when the move was approved, but Juneau cried loud and hard about how their town would become a ghost town. For some reason, the money to make the move was disappeared and the town that should be a ghost town is still alive and cheating today!

      • Most of the complaints came from people with state jobs who didn’t want to have their personal applecart upset. We’ve been in decline for decades and considering how anti growth we are, we’re happy with it.

        If the powers that be really wanted to move, it would have happened. We would go on just fine, but with less blowhards downtown. Moving the capital would ultimately be good for us since it would force us to grow or adapt.

        Juneau isn’t the source of all evil. We’re just an isolated community who for some reason got stuck with the capital. Juneau doesn’t hurt you. Your issue is with the idiots you send here every year. Most of them are from Los Anchorage.

    • Many bush villages have been there for centuries. At least in the same basic region. It’s hard to leave that behind. Additionally, the bush villages had existed by living with nature in a way the gold rush communities never could or would. They tended to swarm like locusts, moving on to the next opportunity instead of trying to build one where they were.

      If they left, they’d end up somewhere else with the same set of problems. Isn’t one of Anchorage’s most common complaints having to deal with unwanted natives hanging around on the streets?

      Not taking a position pro or con, but just pointing out this particular issue isn’t quite so cut and dry.

  8. So only natives in the bush can install hydro plants on rivers? I see 3 of those on the list. I’m not clear on what the Tanana Chiefs are doing to replace diesel consumption.

  9. Hope that Old Harbor, Chignik Bay and Angoon have leftover money or ways to make others pay for the operations & maintenance costs for these smaller hydrolectric power facilities.

    Average O&M cost ranged from $16/kW for Very Large (>500 MW) plants to $213/kW for Small (<=10 MW) plants (U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, OFFICE OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLE ENERGY|WATER POWER TECHNOLOGIES OFFICE 2023 U.S. Hydropower Market Report). A trillion here, a trillion there, soon you're talking real money.

  10. 80% of the states population lives in viable areas for geothermal energy. It’s a power source that always runs. No need for fuel, sunlight, or wind. A single plant costs less than $10 million to build, can produce 50MW of energy, can provide heated water to a large area and will continue to run forever, minus maintenance. The longer a plant runs the cheaper the energy gets. The plants can be installed in clusters for greater efficiency.
    Why are we paying $125,000,000 for power that is intermittent and needs to be replaced in 10 years?
    The graft and corruption is astounding

    • We tried geo at Mount Spurr 2009-2010. Found that while there was heat at depth, there is no pressurized hydrothermal system. Everything below the mountain is broken up and unable to hold a circulating hydrothermal system. Good try by experts in the industry, though. Cheers –

      ‘https://www.thinkgeoenergy.com/testing-at-mount-spurr-project-in-alaska-not-as-successful-as-hoped-for-ormat/

    • Sen. Dan Sullivan is addicted to the free money as are many of the reps that are supposed to be working for us!

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