Akiak gets $4M power upgrade from rural energy program


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Four engines are lined up in an 88,000-pound module to be transported to the small city of Akiak. The Alaska Energy Authority is providing the generators to replace the rural city’s current, outdated power system.

Jonathan Grass/AJOC

Every remote Alaskan community knows reliable power is vital. The tiny city of Akiak knows what it’s like to experience a power failure, but a gift from the Alaska Energy Authority may help ensure it won’t have to again.

Akiak is a city of about 350 people in the Bethel Census Area. It is a predominantly Alaska Native community with a strong Yup’ik population that relies on subsistence and fishing. According to the 2010 Census, there are 90 occupied housing units in the community.

AEA has just sent four new power generators to Akiak. Each one can produce 210 kilowatts at a time and can run parallel to help ensure reliability. AEA Program Manager Kris Noonan said the community requires around 200 kW during the winter peak so the system can meet regular usage and any unexpected peaks or single generator problems.

A single generator can tackle the regular needs and a second will automatically go online during spikes. Having four means a backup for each.

A 44-foot long, 88,000-pound module houses the engines. This module is made from noncombustible steel construction and contains a fire suppression system.

Noonan said the total project cost a little more than $4 million in a combination of Denali Commission and state funding. The module represents about half the cost with more of the funds going to fuel lines and a heat recovery system.

AEA is working on a completely new electrical distribution system as part of the project.

Akiak’s upgrade is part of AEA’s Rural Power System Upgrade program that began in 2000. Noonan said they’re about halfway through their list of rural communities with power needs.

Noonan said Akiak has had numerous outages and that the current equipment is very old and worn out.

“Akiak needed help keeping the power on, especially in winter,” he said.

Ivan M. Ivan, Akiak’s city administrator and tribal chief said the new generators are just what the city needs. He said the last upgrade was a heat exchange system in 1990 and the power plant that has supplied the city’s energy is not a stable source.

Ivan remembered the struggles during a blackout lasting nearly two days last February and said trips to the nearby city of Kwethluk were required.

Ivan said that the city wasn’t prepared to handle the older systems when they were installed, and the system itself was old and inefficient. Ivan said Akiak has doubled its use of heating fuel in the last three years, sometimes going through 500 gallons of fuel in four days. Diesel prices can run more than $6 per gallon around there, although Ivan said the vendor helps the city out with customer rates.

“Every revenue we had went to the purchase of fuel,” Ivan said.

Ivan said the bottom line is that the new generators will save fuel costs.

Brian Gray of Alaska Energy and Engineering designed the system. He said engine selection is the most important thing to find engines with the right fuel efficiency.

Gray said the marine configuration for these engines produces twice the amount of usable heat by capturing exhaust. He said it will offset 18,00 gallons of heating fuel per year.

The system is comes complete with an automated day and night cycle. The generators can be monitored remotely from Anchorage. This allows AEA to run diagnostics before sending out technicians in case of a problem.

“This is so modern I cant believe it,” Ivan said “It’s like being in the movies.”

Akiak will be responsible for the system’s upkeep through its own operators. AEA worked with the city to put a business plan together.

AEA showed off the module during an open house in Anchorage on June 13 before it was shipped to Akiak.

Ivan expressed his appreciation to the state legislature and AEA for recognizing the city’s need.

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