The harsh weather and inaccessible geography of rural Alaska communities pose significant energy challenges to the region, including keeping electricity and other energy costs very high compared to the lower 48 and even more populous regions of the state. Many communities rely almost exclusively on expensive diesel fuel—shipped in by barge or air—for electricity generation and heat. While government programs have helped to some extent, tighter state and uncertain federal budgets are creating unprecedented challenges for rural Alaska utilities and the communities that they serve. But changing energy technologies offer the promise of increased self-sufficiency and cost-management. This report—which includes a range of recommendations to help rural Alaska increase energy self-sufficiency and manage energy costs—is the result of a study conducted over the course of 18 months that involved in-person interviews with utility staff and community members from more than 30 rural communities located across all parts of Alaska. It was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs and was authored by researchers from the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). Improving economies-of-scale and encouraging investment in rural workforce development are among the top recommendations of the report. The paper also suggests increasing utility accountability, providing incentives for performance, and fostering a larger role for independent power producers and other third-party service providers. The report presents more than a dozen recommendations intended to serve as a pathway for rural Alaska utilities to reduce costs and ultimately become more self-sufficient. This executive summary provides a brief description of the project and previews the recommendations.
Sustainable Energy Solutions for Rural Alaska: Executive Summary
April 26, 2016