Rural Energy Conference: Forum to Explore Ways to Generate Power, Hold Down Costs

Sep 22, 2014

The Ninth Rural Energy Conference gets under way Tuesday here in Fairbanks. The three-day gathering of experts and advocates will examine how Alaska’s rural residents get electricity, and how they might get it in the future more efficiently – and less expensively.


The Ninth Rural Energy Conference gets under way Tuesday here in Fairbanks. The three-day gathering of experts and advocates will examine how Alaska’s rural residents get electricity, and how they might get it in the future more efficiently – and less expensively.

The Rural Energy Conference will feature presentations on renewable-energy topics like a small-scale hydropower project that's being tested in the Nenana River, shown here.
Credit Alaska Center for Energy and Power

Gwen Holdmann is director of UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power, which is co-sponsoring the conference at the Westmark Inn, along with the Alaska Energy Authority. Holdmann says the event is open to the public – who all should find something of interest.

“It’s an opportunity from Alaskans from all parts of the state to get together and exchange ideas and information related to energy use, related to energy projects that they’re actually doing or that they’re thinking about doing, …” she said.

Holdmann says as the event title suggests, the conference is oriented toward rural energy concerns rather than megaprojects, like a big natural gas pipeline, that typically dominate discussions on energy. She says conferees will instead focus on off-the-grid energy issues – the grid, in this case, being the Railbelt.

Electricity is relatively expensive here at the north end of the Railbelt grid. But it’s much more so for the thousands of Interior residents who don’t get electricity from the big utility, Golden Valley Electric Association.

Holdmann says concerns over high energy costs in rural areas attracted some 500 representatives from about 75 communities around the state to last year’s convention in Anchorage.

“We’re really able to draw people from throughout the state to address this question of how we can best supply affordable energy throughout the state, and not just on our railbelt grid,” she said.

Holdmann says residents of the Interior who live off the Railbelt grid typically get their electricity from smaller systems that use expensive diesel-fueled generators. Some are trying to integrate renewable energy sources, such as biomass and small-scale hydro-power. Alaska Power and Telephone’s "microgrid" in the Tok area is one example.

Holdmann says there are more microgrids here in Alaska than anywhere else in the world. That has created a big knowledge base here, which makes it the perfect place to consider ways to make them more efficient, and less costly.

“We have about 12 percent of the world’s microgrids here in Alaska, and we have some really specialized expertise,” she said. “Our very diverse suite of different projects that we’re tried out, there we’re doing, that we’re actively engaged in here in Alaska.”

You can find out more and sign up for the conference by going to akruralenergy.org.