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Alaska Town Invests in Energy Efficiency

July 13, 2010 - 8:56am

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Small town Tanana, Alaska is off the grid. The city of about 300 people lies 132 mostly roadless miles from Fairbanks, making it easier to reach by airplane than by car.

That means Tanana has to burn diesel to create electricity, pushing up the cost to 76 cents per kilowatt hour - at least 13 times the standard in the lower 48. These high costs make something as simple as powering streetlights very expensive.

To save money and energy, Tanana applied for and received a $20,000 Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The money will allow Tanana to replace its older high-pressure sodium streetlights with newer and more energy-efficient LED streetlights.

"Our streetlights right now use about 150 watts. The two brands we're looking at, one is a 25-watt brand that produces more light than the 150-watt lights currently do, and the other uses about 38 watts," says Al "Bear" Ketzler, Tanana's city manager. "So with either product... there's a 300 percent savings."

Because LED streetlights have a lifespan three to four times longer than that of the current lights, Ketzler also expects long-term savings. He estimates that the project will pay for itself in two and a half to three years.

The grant will fund replacement of 22 of the city's 38 streetlights. Because not all of the lights will be replaced, the city hopes to get maximum use out of the LED lights by placing them block by block in the denser areas of Tanana, then in the more widely spaced outlying streets.

The city is currently working on choosing a brand and a contractor, which will be chosen through competitive bidding. Ketzler expects the project to employ at most two people for at least two months. In a smaller town like Tanana, it makes a difference.

"Small communities in Alaska, we don't get these opportunities to upgrade our technologies," he says. "So we feel blessed to have this opportunity to upgrade. We're not going to be able to upgrade all of our streetlights, but we can get 75 percent of them."

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