Solar energy funding to reduce villages’ cost of generating power – KUAC

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Federal Infrastructure program pays for renewable energy systems to reduce use of costly diesel fuel for generators

The Tanana Chiefs Conference is helping Interior villages replace some of their diesel fuel-generated electricity with power generated by solar panels.

Tanana Chiefs’ leaders’ ambitious plan to use federal funds from the 2021 Inflation Reduction Act to install solar panels and batteries in eight remote communities to offset the high cost of running diesel-fueled generators.

“This funding environment represents really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Dave Messier, Tanana Chiefs Conference’s Infrastructure Division director. “And we’re trying to make sure that we don’t wake up once it’s all done and have some regrets.”

Messier spoke during TCC’s annual convention last week about how the $26 million Alaska Tribal Energy Sovereignty plan will enable the organization to build on the success of previous solar projects. Like a 120-kilowatt system it built three years ago in the village of Hughes.

“We were able to turn the diesel generators in that powerhouse off for periods of up to 12 hours, by putting in large solar systems, combining them with batteries, and then integrating the controllers,” he said.

Controllers are devices that detect a dropoff in solar-generated electricity and compensate for that by either drawing energy from a battery or a generator.

Messier cautioned the solar projects won’t completely eliminate the need for burning diesel. But they’ll reduce use of the fuel that must be brought in by airplane or barge and often sells for more than $8 per gallon. According to TCC, energy costs in the remote villages are four times higher than the national average.

“So we’re not going to solve the entire problem,” he said. “But our goal is to put a big ol’ dent in it.”

TCC says the solar panels and other infrastructure could help village residents save $100,000 a year and help generate $150,000 from power sales agreements.

Messier says the infrastructure act will enable Tanana Chiefs to leverage additional money in other ways. He says the program requires TCC to own all or most of each project for the first five years. The organization will sell power to the local utility, then use that revenue to help pay for maintenance and operations and other expenses.

The eight villages slated to get solar panels in this round of infrastructure funding include Nulato, Huslia, Minto, Kaltag, Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk and Holy Cross.

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