Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Students Battle Rising Energy Costs in Remote Angoon Alaska
Title Wave Group created an awareness campaign about the energy problems and solutions that the SE Alaskan natives are facing. Renewable energy works in Alaska.

“It’s a great opportunity to export our knowledge that we learned in the Sustainable Living program to a location where the energy costs are staggering,” Mr. Gongwer said. 

Several current and former students, and Sustainable Living faculty member Lonnie Gamble spent a month in a small village on Admiralty Island in Alaska installing sustainable energy technology as part of a project to help indigenous Alaskans deal with the crushing energy costs. 

The average cost of power in the village of Angoon is $0.60 per kilowatt hour — up to 10 times higher than the typical cost in the lower 48 states. 

The success of the $125,000 renewable energy project has led to the village and tribe (with MUM as a partner) to apply for several millions of dollars for the next phase, which entails having renewables and efficiency replace fossil fuels in powering the villages of the Tlingit and Haida nations in southeast Alaska.

Sustainable Living alumni Troy Van Beek and Robbie Gongwer and Mr. Gamble, with the assistance of students Ashley Smith and Micah Salaberrios, installed solar energy panels, solar hot water, a wind turbine, monitoring equipment, and energy-efficient fixtures such as LED bulbs on two demonstration projects: a home and a school. They also worked on weatherization in order to minimize energy loss.

In addition, Mr. Salaberrios and Mr. Gongwer are collaborating on a documentary. Ms. Smith did a summer internship in the village working to create a culture of sustainability that extends the traditional culture of sustainability.

“Our team worked very hard on this project — months of preparation and logistics work to get everything staged, and then a month on site working long hours seven days a week,” Mr. Gamble said.

The remoteness of the Tlingit island village of about 450 residents was a challenge, since there are no roads and access is via a six-hour ferry ride or 45-minute flight. “We had to make sure we had everything we needed, because if you don’t have something, you can’t just go out and buy it,” Mr. Gongwer said.

MUM’s involvement resulted from Mr. Gamble and students having visited southeast Alaska four times. Subsequently, Andrei Chakine, the manager of business and economic development for the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, visited MUM. Mr. Chakine was impressed with the sustainability initiatives on campus and invited the University to do the same thing there.

“It’s a great opportunity to export our knowledge that we learned in the Sustainable Living program to a location where the energy costs are staggering,” Mr. Gongwer said.

The first task was to win the trust of an indigenous tribe. “Andrei invited us because he thought that those at MUM would be the best outsiders to overcome their mistrust,” Mr. Gongwer said.

More information about the project ->

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