The far-flung Aleutian Islands have been called the birthplace of the winds. It is ever present on the rocky islands, as much a part of life there as the marine life and birds that ride the currents.
So when Ron Philemonoff of St. Paul saw wind turbines moving in the breezes of southern California while visiting relatives several years ago, he became interested in harnessing the much stronger winds of St. Paul island to help power the industrial complex owned by the Tanadgusix Corporation (TDX).
In the process, TDX, a village corporation created under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, found a niche that creates jobs and opportunities for shareholders. Philemonoff, now CEO of TDX, helped launch a successful enterprise on the remote island, a remote haven for bird-watchers.
It also helps lower energy costs in a region where a gallon of diesel fuel or a gallon of milk can cost $10. And, while Fairbanks residents pay about twenty cents per kilowatt hour and Anchorage residents pay only about fourteen cents per kilowatt hour, electricity rates in rural Alaska can be triple or quadruple those rates.
It's an ideal combination for Alaska Native corporations. Under ANCSA, which divided 44 million acres of land and $962.5 million among Alaska Natives who created twelve Alaska-based regional corporations and about two hundred village corporations, the corporations have a dual mandate: to provide economic opportunities for shareholders as well as to provide for their social and cultural well-being.
Investing in energy-related businesses is one way they can accomplish both, says Jerald Brown, vice president of Nome operations for Bering Straits Native Corporation.
"It's a service we can provide for profit that generates revenue and profits for Bering Straits, as well as savings for the buyer, our customers," Brown says.
For instance, NANA Regional Corporation in Northwest Alaska works with RuralCAP to help shareholders improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Several villages in the region have wind turbines or are looking to build one. Hydropower may help fuel future development near promising mineral deposits on the upper Kobuk River.
Hundreds of miles south, Sealaska Corporation retrofitted the boiler system at its Juneau headquarters to run on environmentally friendly biomass. Besides saving money on energy, Sealaska hopes to expand the demand for the wood pellets used in the boiler, which would give the...