The Tundra Drums - CAUYAT - The Beat of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta


By Lang Van Dommelen
Alaska Energy Authority 

Emmonak retrofits for energy efficiency


Emmonak City Hall before energy efficiency improvements.

“I am forced to decide buying between heating fuel or groceries. I had been forced to dig into our January income to stay warm during December. Again, for this month, same thing happens.” —Nicholas Tucker Sr. 2009

When thinking about energy the first thing that comes to mind is not the ability to feed oneself. However, in Emmonak the high cost of energy has a direct impact on the subsistence economy that people rely upon.

According to Martin B. Moore, Emmonak city administrator has seen a sharp decline in fish returns in the last 15 years. This created a strain on the quality life of people living throughout the region. “Whether you look at it as a food issue or an energy issue, in Emmonak we have an economic situation, there are less fish… We are missing our income. People don’t have enough money to pay for their bills and pay for gasoline for subsistence,” said Moore.

In 2009, Emmonak received national attention after the cost of energy became so high, families were forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves.

Since the winter of 2009, Emmonak has utilized many funding opportunities to take practical steps towards improving energy efficiency, creating jobs and lowering production overheads that help keep energy more affordable for residents.

According to the 2010 census, the population was 762 and there were 189 households. On average more than four people live in each home. The median household 2012 income was $32,917 and over 16 percent of the residents were living in poverty. While prices have gone down since the 2009 crisis, heating fuel prices in 2012 averaged around $6.54 per gallon, almost twice as much as in Fairbanks where customers pay $3.78. Electricity also costs significantly more than it does on the railbelt, at $0.50kWh – four times as expensive as electricity in Anchorage, where customers often pay less than $0.13/kWh. Compounding the high cost of energy, supplies like food, construction materials and other necessities like gasoline and the diesel used to run electric generators are the costs of semiannual barge shipments from Fairbanks or air travel.

Prior to the whole village retrofit, many buildings fell into disrepair. In many, insulation suffered from poor ventilation, windows were cracked, broken or boarded over, many heating boilers were pieced together and jury rigged by maintenance staff and some had stopped working entirely.

In a community where the cost of energy is so high, the disrepair and the inefficiencies they caused created an environment that placed unnecessary burden on the community, and the costs associated with the proper repairs seemed inhibitive.

After receiving grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Alaska Energy Authority, Ameresco was contracted to conduct energy audits and complete a village energy efficiency retrofit. Extensive work was completed on the Emmonak School, the police department and jail, the city hall, the washeteria, public works building, waste water treatment plant and power plant.

Some retrofits were comparatively inexpensive and simple fixes, including replacing worn weather stripping on doors and sealing building envelopes. Other improvements were more costly, and included replacing furnaces stoves and roofs on some of the most dilapidated community structures. In addition to community building retrofits, a light fixture exchange program was completed.

At the Emmonak School, improvements included weather stripping replacement on the exterior doors which saves the school $571 a year, a tune up on both boilers is saving the school $6,905 a year, and the T8 lighting upgrade saves $5,779 a year. Both the boilers and lighting had a payback period of less than a year.

Emmonak City Hall after energy efficiency improvements.

These types of savings have been seen at many of the retrofit sites, in fact, the improvements made during the whole village retrofit save Emmonak almost $90,000 dollars a year.

Lowering the energy consumption in Emmonak has created opportunities for continued sustainable energy projects including six new Northwind 100 wind turbines that Emmonak shares with a neighboring village. With a renewed dedication to providing the residents in the community with more affordable energy, and involvement in further residential weatherization programs through organizations like Association of Village Council Presidents, Emmonak will create an environment that will promote long term sustainability and improve quality of life.

“Energy is a critical issue, and is such an important part of moving forward…every little bit helps.” — Martin. B. Moore

You might be interested in:

Reader Comments

Climateguy1973 writes:

The claim that renewable energy is too expensive is out-of-date propaganda.