In-river hydro project in Alaska chosen for federal assistance aimed to get communities off diesel

A shot of the Nuyakuk Falls. Nushagak Cooperative is proposing to build a hydroelectric project at the falls, located three miles inside the Wood-Tikchik State Park. (Photo credit Alison Eskelin)

The U.S. Department of Energy chose 11 communities nationwide to receive federal assistance for projects aimed at reducing their reliance on diesel fuel. Five of the communities are in Alaska, including Dillingham and Aleknagik, which are listed as one project.

Renewable Energy Alaska Project, or REAP, is an Alaskan non-profit that promotes renewable energy development and energy efficiency. Executive Director Chris Rose says the communities were chosen for their remote locations and the high cost and heavy reliance on diesel fuel. In Dillingham and Aleknagik, REAP wants to help explore the effects of the Nuyakuk River Hydroelectric Project.

“There’s a lot of ramifications with big projects,” Rose said. “And REAP is just there to make sure that the community gets its questions answered and get access to who they need to at the national laboratories.”

REAP will act as a liaison for Nushagak Cooperative, the local utilities co-op. It will arrange for resources from the National Renewable Energy Lab, Pacific Northwest National Lab Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Sandia National Labs to help with the co-op’s Nuyakuk project proposal, and with plans to scope the hydroelectric project this summer.

REAP’s Rob Jordan said the organization will not be involved in the regulatory process. Instead, it will focus on maximizing the project’s efficiency.

“In terms of really being able to help the utility to squeeze every drop of electricity out of the project that’s possible,” Jordan said. “But also to allow them to have a better understanding of the many risk factors that come along with a project like this.”

Heading into fall, they will conduct economic impact statements for both the generator’s productivity and its potential impacts on fish passage in the river. Work is expected to last for up to 18 months.