The Department of Energy (DOE) announced Monday it will provide $7 million in technical support for solar power to Native Alaskan tribes, especially those in the far north.
The parts of Alaska where the DOE intends to spend the cash have nearly 24 hours of darkness in the winter, which is precisely when Alaskans need the most electricity. Alaska has nearly 24 hours of sunlight during the summer, but that’s when demand for power is at its lowest point as there’s no need to crank up the heat. Alaska’s harsh winters make the state’s per capita energy consumption the third highest in the nation.
The villages which will receive the cash influx don’t actually have much demand for power and are currently reliant upon diesel generators.
A DOE study actually estimates northern Alaska has more solar power potential than Germany. The study admits any solar power in northern Alaska would require conventional diesel generators to serve as a backup during the winter. However, it does not examine if the program will save the Native Alaskan tribes money or even if the research would be economically feasible.
Despite these shortcomings, DOE anticipates giving Alaskan tribes $300,000 to $1,000,000 in awards for the next three to five years so the tribes can develop solar power. The $7 million and additional awards will only be available to “Alaska Native Regional Corporations” or “Inter‐tribal Organizations.”
“These efforts support President Obama’s commitment to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with tribal nations,” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz wrote in a press statement Monday. “By building energy awareness and expanding existing networks, Indian tribes and Alaska Native communities are better positioned to find energy solutions that fit with their unique needs.”
The entire program is being run through the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, which has requested a budget of $23 million in 2017. Interestingly, this is an increase of exactly $7 million from the 2016 budget.