Metlakatla, Alaska Native villages to receive federal grants for energy upgrades

$12 million to 13 indigenous communities, seven in Alaska

Courtesy image / U.S. Department of Energy 
A map of Alaska shows the number of projects throughout the state that have received grants from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy since 2009. On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, DOE announced $12 million in energy grants for 13 American Indian and Alaska Native communities, seven of which are in Alaska.

Courtesy image / U.S. Department of Energy A map of Alaska shows the number of projects throughout the state that have received grants from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy since 2009. On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, DOE announced $12 million in energy grants for 13 American Indian and Alaska Native communities, seven of which are in Alaska.

The Department of Energy announced $12 million in funding for energy cost reduction efforts in 13 American Indian and Alaska Native communities across the country, seven of which are in Alaska.

In a news conference Tuesday held via teleconference , U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm; Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Wahleah Johns, senior adviser for the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy Policy; and Programs and Metlakatla Indian Community Tribal Council member Keolani Booth said the grant money would help Indigenous communities reduce costs and move toward more sustainable energy production.

“We want to thank the federal government for its investment into our community,” said Keolani Booth, tribal council member from the Metlakatla Indian Community, one of the communities receiving funding. “This opens up many new options.”

Metlakatla will receive more than $1 million to complete an intertie project to nearby Ketchikan that will lower prices for consumers. In a prepared statement, Booth said the project had been in the works for about 20 years but thanks to assistance from state and national politicians the project was becoming a reality. Booth thanked state politicians Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, for their work on the project as well as Murkowski, whom he called“our longtime and beloved senator.”

The other communities in Alaska receiving grants are the Akiachak Native Community; the Native Village of Kipnuk; the Native Village of Diomede; the Native Village of Noatak and the Northwest Arctic Borough; the Village of Aniak and the Village of Chefornak. American Indian communities in California, Florida, Washington and Colorado will also receive grants.

“There 573 federally recognized tribes in the country,” Murkowski said at the conference, “and 231 are in Alaska.”

[Forest Service set to approve Kensington expansion]

Murkowski said energy costs in rural Alaska can be up to 800% higher than the national average, and that constituents have told her stories about having to choose between paying energy bills and buying food for their children. The projects in many of the grants were not significant changes, she said, but investments in upgrades that would save money and help to make communities more energy independent.

According to DOE, funding will go to a variety of projects including the construction of electrical intertie projects, installation of solar panels and batteries and LED light upgrades. Many of the projects funded will build renewable energy projects like solar, including in Alaska, but several projects in the state are aimed at bolstering the efficiency of existing diesel-generated power.

The Akiachak Native Community is set to receive $123,000 to install energy efficiency measures on five essential multi-use buildings, according to a DOE breakdown of the projects. Energy-efficient retrofits include more efficient furnaces in the laundry building, an LED lighting upgrade and installation of setback thermostats in all five buildings.

According to DOE, the upgrades will save the community more than $17,000 in energy costs annually and $2,000 in annual maintenance.

Completing the electrical intertie between will reduce costs by significantly decreasing or eliminating the use of diesel generators, DOE said. The department estimates the project will save $516,970 annually and nearly $26 million over the 50-year life of the systems.

But power sales agreements still need to be negotiated between several stakeholders, according to Jeremy Bynum, acting division manager at the Ketchikan Public Utility. The intertie would connect Metlakatla with the energy grids of not just Ketchikan but Petersburg and Wrangell as well. All three of those communities are members of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, and while conversations about the project had taken place Bynum said, the relationship between the entities was complicated.

“There’s been a lot of conversation occurring between the utility, SEAPA, I think we’re still pretty early in the process in terms of coming up with a power sales agreement,” Bynum told the Empire by phone Tuesday. “I know there’s been a lot of design work. We do have a preliminary design of how and where we would make an intertie connection.”

Granholm said at the conference the Biden administration is making efforts to hold more tribal consultations and include the input of tribal governments.

“We’ll make sure the communities that have often gone unseen or unheard, and that includes all too many tribal governments across the nation, will be heard,” Granholm said.

The secretary said the grants were part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better campaign and called funding for renewable energy projects “once in a century investment.” Granholm said additional projects are being negotiated in the infrastructure package currently being championed by President Joe Biden.

But negotiations are still ongoing, Murkowski said.

“There’s still a fair amount of back and forth that’s going on,” Murkowski said. “That’s good, discussions are happening in earnest.”

Projects were selected by a committee and based on scoring criteria, Johns said, saying she and the Office of Indian Energy had worked with local communities to identify projects. Local communities are paying for some of the costs but the majority of the funding is coming from the grants, according to DOE.

The Metlakatla Indian Community owns a public utility, Metlakatla Power and Light, which will be responsible for the maintenance of the intertie, according to Booth.

Booth said federal funding for energy projects helps communities like Metlakatla become more independent.

“We cherish our independence but we also recognize we are all stronger when we are connected,” Booth said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Jan. 29

Bus drivers picket outside the bus barn in Wasilla, Alaska on Jan. 26, 2023. Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district have gone on strike after delivering students to classes on Tuesday,  Jan. 31, citing unfair labor practices. (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News)
Mat-Su school bus drivers strike

ANCHORAGE — Bus drivers in Alaska’s second-largest school district went on strike… Continue reading

The Juneau School District’s recently announced its new directors of teaching and learning support and student services who are set to start in their positions in July. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
District selects new directors for teaching and learning support and student services

The new directors will take over their roles in the district in July.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The final Boeing 747 lands at Paine Field following a test flight, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Everett, Wash. Boeing bids farewell to an icon on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, when it delivers the jumbo jet to cargo carrier Atlas Air. Since it debuted in 1969, the 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft, but it has been rendered obsolete by more profitable and fuel-efficient models. (Jennifer Buchanan / The Seattle Times)
Boeing bids farewell to an icon, delivers last 747 jumbo jet

SEATTLE — Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday: It’s delivering… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, after returning from an event in Baltimore on infrastructure. (AP Photo / Susan Walsh)
Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

The move would formally restructure the federal coronavirus response.

Carla Casulucan, shareholder relations manager for Huna Totem Corp., gives public testimony Monday night in support of the Huna Totem development and urged the city to vote against an ordinance that would have allowed the city to spend $300,000 to help plan the location of a proposed cruise ship dock at the downtown subport. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
City decides against spending on cruise ship dock planning

Assembly votes down ordinance after more than a dozen public comments against it.

Most Read