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Rural Alaska

Alaska village and electric utility partner on backup power system using batteries

Aerial photo of Kwethluk, on Friday, August 7, 2015. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

BETHEL — An Alaska village is partnering with an electric utility to build a battery storage system to be used during power outages.

The project involving Kwethluk and the Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative could help end the village’s reliance on diesel fuel, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Tuesday.

Kwethluk and the electric cooperative received $477,050 from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a 675 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. Kwethluk was required to match 50% of the funds, officials said.

Kwethluk is a largely Yup’ik community with more than 700 residents who live a subsistence lifestyle 12 miles east of Bethel on the Kwethluk River.

A battery of that size could light every home for an hour during peak demand or maintain critical buildings including the health clinic and community hall for more than two hours, officials said.

"Basically it's for promoting community resilience for community facilities and tribal members," said Nuvista Executive Director Natalie Hanson.

A Kwethluk wind farm proposal is under review by the energy department, but the battery is more likely to arrive first, Hanson said.

Kwethluk wants to avoid the type of multiday power outage endured last year by the residents of nearby Tuluksak, officials said. The project is similar to one in Kongiganak, which installed a lithium-ion battery to meet half of its energy needs with wind.

Battery storage is necessary to move Kwethluk away from costly diesel fuel, Hanson said.

“You don’t have storage, you always have to have your diesel on, running low, so you are always using some amount of diesel,” she said.

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