Raven Steals the Light Bulb– Art by James Crawford

By Clay Good for Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sustainable Southeast Project

It’s foggy and raining in Klawock when folks start trickling in on flights from around the state. When it comes to planning for a more energy independent Klawock, weather is no obstacle for intrepid stakeholders and advocates arriving to support the community’s vision for a future less reliant upon imported energy sources. And they’re well on their way.

Geographically and culturally, Klawock is located deep in traditional Tlingit and Haida territory on Prince of Wales Island, the fourth largest island in the United States.  The Tlingit call the island Taan, meaning sea lion.  

It’s an imposing land of ocean, mountain, river, rain and vast forests of hemlock, spruce and cedar in various stages of regrowth after decades of logging – that is to say, abundant renewable energy surrounds them – mostly as hydroelectricity and biomass heating resources.

Biomass heat systems make wise use of abundant post logging waste wood and are commonly used across the island to heat schools, pools, greenhouses and other facilities – creating jobs for locals and keeping energy dollars circulating locally longer. 

Not surprisingly, most of the communities on the island enjoy access to abundant clean hydroelectricity – and more is coming online in 2019 with the completion of the Hiilangaay Hydroelectric Project. Clean, price-stable, reliable, abundant hydroelectric energy allows the island’s residents to make real choices about energy, economy and ecology. 

Already a few EV’s – electric vehicles – can be seen zipping along on now-paved logging roads still dominated by big trucks.  But with fuel approaching $5.00 a gallon on the island, it’s just a matter of time before Klawock commuters jump into their Nissan Leaf and leave the F-250in the driveway.  

For space heating purposes, new generation high efficiency air source heat pumps are particularly well-suited in this temperate climate. The amount of electricity needed to heat one home using typical resistance heaters will heat 3 homes using new heat pumps. With increased access to clean, stable hydroelectricity, heat pumps are rapidly replacing old inefficient electric heat and oil-fired systems.  

Though abundant in SE, hydroelectricity is expensive to develop and deliver, so rates are higher in rural SE communities than for their more urban counterparts, increasing the economic challenges facing remote communities like Klawock.  Fortunately, the people of Klawock have a long history of resilience and innovation in the face of the region’s physical and economic challenges.  

Klawock city, tribal and school leaders are working together – or  wooch een, as the locals say when hard work requires teamwork – by putting their limited resources to best use, creating proactive energy plans and working with various regional, statewide and national agencies to establish priorities and secure funds for practical energy improvement projects.  

Their most recent success story is the immediate savings achieved when Klawock switched 77 of their street lights from high pressure sodium bulbs to LED’s, using funds awarded from the Alaska Energy Authority through its RACEE program (Remote Alaska Communities Energy Efficiency). Quinn Aboudara, Community Catalyst for the Sustainable Southeast Partnership (SSP) and Shaina Kilcoyne, who was the Energy Security Catalyst at the time were pivotal in facilitating Klawock’s successful application to the RACEE program. The city contributed matching funds to the award and Alaska Power & Telephone did the retrofitting and installations. That’s when the savings started.

According to Klawock city administrator Leslie Isaacs, the city instantly reaped the benefits, noting an average of a $991.31 per month electrical savings for street lights over the past 4 months.  

Compared to the same month’s last year, that’s better than 50% savings! At a cost of $65,134.81 to install, the short and long-term return on investment looks bright.

In the Beginning, those in-the-know credit ever-so-clever Ravenfor bringing light to the day and night. These days the village of Klawock maintains this age-old tradition for a lot less money. Now that’s clever.