Akhiok’s new power system opens the door to renewable energy, and reduces costs

Akhiok Mayor Dan McCoy, left, talks with former Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer inside the existing powerhouse in August 2018. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Kornelis)

The Kodiak village of Akhiok’s power grid supports 73 people: about 25 homes, a school, a clinic and the tribal and city offices. Like many remote villages in Alaska, it runs on a diesel generator and an aging power grid buried underground.

“It’s failing,” said Akhiok mayor Dan McCoy. “The infrastructure is just is so old. And the grid, the wires that are in the ground are just basically rotten.”

McCoy doubles as the village’s electrician. He’s been working to get the system replaced for 10 years.

Right now Akhiok’s electricity rate is the highest on the island. At 80 cents per kilowatt-hour, it’s more than five times the city of Kodiak’s rate. One reason it’s so expensive, according to McCoy, is that Akhiok’s worn down grid loses about 25 percent of the electricity it generates to line loss — basically, leaking into the ground instead of traveling through the wires.

On top of that, he said, the whole village experiences about two power outages a week.

“I might not be able to get it back on for a week to certain sections of the village, depending on how long it takes me to find the dead short in the ground,” he said.

With grants from the Denali Commission, the state of Alaska and the United States Department of Agriculture, the entire grid plus the power generator are slated to be replaced by 2021. The new system comes with estimates of a 15 to 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency, and with it, lowered electricity bills for Akhiok residents.

It will also integrate a heat recovery system, taking heat from the new powerhouse’s exhaust and using it to heat the school building, effectively cutting the school’s heating bill in half. And it’s set up to be compatible with alternative energy sources, like solar panels.

“As soon as they get the new power plant, we can start applying for funding,” McCoy said. “Right at the moment we don’t have the capability to introduce solar or wind into our grid. But in a year we will have, when the new power plant is complete.”

Kodiak Area Native Association project manager Tyler Kornelis has been working with McCoy on the process. They’re working on a feasibility study to determine what kinds of renewable energy would work best for the village. He says Akhiok could serve as a model for other villages looking toward efficient, and potentially renewable, energy systems.

“I think if we could develop a community scale solar project in a remote micro-grid community like Akhiok, it would be great to share with other communities so that we can replicate that,” he said.

The surveying and conceptual design phase of the project is done. McCoy and Kornelis expect the bidding process for construction to open up after Christmas, and are hoping for construction to begin this summer.

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