A strategically developed energy infrastructure can change the face of our nation for the better. Catastrophic grid outages in the bottom 48. Attacks on our country’s pipeline infrastructure that drove up gas prices. The lack of inexpensive power generation for far too many rural communities that still rely on expensive diesel fuel to heat their homes and power their schools. Defects in transmission lines and distribution systems. Approval and location obstacles for the use of cost-effective and reliable renewable energy sources. All of these are signs that the US’s own energy infrastructure has fallen behind.
I urge our lawmakers here at home and in Washington DC to recognize the traditional constraints of the energy infrastructure in our system, and I see communities like Cordova and so many others in Alaska as examples of what can be achieved when we are clean, safe, resilient and cost-effective energy base of the future.
Cordova is a successful example of using natural resources to provide renewable energy to power our community and the fish fishermen, processors and companies who harvest our world-class salmon despite the challenges in the energy grid. In the high season for seafood, for example, Cordova’s energy requirements increase to almost three times its winter peak. But with the development of hydropower and innovative next-generation microgrid technologies, we are now able to meet Cordova’s electricity needs at a fraction of the cost while managing the lands and waters we depend on for a living . In addition to developing renewable energies, Cordova Electric has invested in our greatest natural resource: Alaskans.
Through the development of Cordova’s Power Creek hydropower plant – a $ 24 million investment shared equally between the Department of Energy’s Indian Energy Fund and the state of Alaska – we’ve been able to do this over the years through the Diesel fuel savings of more than $ 40 million over the past 20 years. The creation of low-cost renewable energy in Cordova has attracted more than $ 40 million in private fishing investments, including two fish oil plants and expanding onshore processing to replace offshore processing. If you add up the increase in raw fish tax revenues – from about half a million dollars a year to now more than $ 1.1 million a year – the state of Alaska has more than recovered its investment in the Power Creek project, all too mention the sideline that was created. As renewable energy became abundantly available onshore to replace diesel fuel use on land, it replaced the extensive use of diesel on the consumer side with offshore processors, essentially doubling the offsetting of diesel fuel use. Cordova describes this as “doubling the environment”. This is the essence of Beneficial Electrification, the migration to lower cost renewable electrical energy platforms to replace traditional fossil fuel platforms for transportation (electric cars, boats and planes) and heating (air and water heat pumps).
In addition, Cordova is now home to one of the country’s largest grid modernization projects – a Ministry of Energy darling – and has made significant strides in battery storage implementation. Not only are these technologies good for the environment, but they more than pay for themselves – saving more than 60,000 gallons of diesel fuel per year. Cordova is proud to say today that our energy prices for our small businesses and residents are lower than they were in 2004 – despite recent growth and economic development.
These are just a few of the technological and ecological success stories that come from the intelligent, innovation-driven energy systems in Cordova. But the holistic impact of these investments on the community as a whole is even greater. As a result of the collective work of our community, Cordova is now recognized as one of the leading communities for safety and the upbringing of a young family – with blue ribbon schools and growing incomes.
Many of these successes were captured in the testimony I gave before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on “Examining Innovation in Action – Microgrids and Hybrid Energy Systems” on the cusp of the much anticipated infrastructure legislation under President Donald Trump . There I explained in detail how specific infrastructure investments and holistic thinking in the areas of education, leisure and business can create added value for a community and its residents. Now, after many years of thinking ahead, we see that shared costs can lead to exponentially greater shared benefits. Our workforce development efforts are another element of our holistic goal of generating multiple value streams around infrastructure development.
If a remote community like ours, which can only be reached by plane or boat, can surpass clean, renewable energy technologies both as energy projects and improve the quality of life, the necessary support and investments from our state and federal partners offer undreamt-of potential. These are all success stories that can be replicated with the right attention and investment. These projects are receiving international recognition for their success and impact on the Cordova community, and it is time to recognize those achievements here at home.
Our Congress leaders, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young, have long been telling Alaska’s clean energy story in the halls of Congress. As demonstrated by their support for the 2020 Energy Bill, EPW’s most recent Land Transportation Bill, and recent negotiations on federal infrastructure legislation, it is clear that our Dongression delegation recognizes that renewable energy is an important part of America’s critical infrastructure. Your continued advocacy has been critical to Cordova’s success and is key to ensuring that an effective renewable energy infrastructure continues to benefit more Alaskans from renewable energy technologies.
Clay Koplin is CEO of the Cordova Energy Cooperative and Mayor of the City of Cordova.