Kawerak hosts Bering Strait Regional Energy Summit

Last week, Kawerak welcomed 79 attendees representing businesses and organizations across the Bering Strait region and throughout the state for the Bering Strait Regional Energy Summit. The event took place May 7-9 at Nome’s Mini Recreation Center and included three days of presentations, hands-on activities and interactive group sessions, followed by an additional workshop and grant writing course on May 10.

The summit brought together regional residents, stakeholders and partner organizations to learn about energy resources. Attendees shared their own community’s experiences with energy and engaged in discussion with presenters to explore options for affordable and sustainable energy projects while collaborating on ideas for decreasing the cost of energy in the Bering Strait region. The summit also featured a Community Energy Fair open to the public with a live radio DJ broadcast from KNOM along with fun activities and door prizes.

Past Energy Summits sponsored by Kawerak and the Bering Strait Development Council provided various workshops geared towards energy savings for residential homes, but according to Kawerak Energy Development Specialist Amanda Toerdal, this is the first Bering Strait Regional Energy Summit hosted under the Department of Energy – Office of Indian Energy Technical Assistance Grant.

All 20 tribes of the Bering Strait region were invited to attend. Upon registration, guests were surveyed to define their main reasons for attending. Overall, the top three topics registrants were most interested in learning about included the weatherization of homes, energy conservation techniques, and learning about past, current and future energy projects in the region. Many communities revealed their interest in learning about funding options for energy projects as well.

Day one opening presenters at the summit, among others, included Kawerak’s Anahma Shannon, Amanda Toerdal and CEO Melanie Bahnke.

“The Bering Strait Regional Energy Summit was organized with the intention to build energy capacity within our region,” said Toerdal. “Our goals for this summit were to provide information about energy resources in the region, encourage outreach between communities and state/federal agencies, and gain momentum for participants to pursue energy planning efforts and eventual energy projects for their communities.”

The summit’s interactive presentations focused on bringing project funding problems to light. An audience poll also revealed the numerous energy-saving projects that are presently underway for wind, solar, heating and other forms of energy.

Day two expanded on sharing projects and experiences, welcoming speakers from different organizations throughout the state who shared community case studies, energy studies and research, and water and sewer energy projects.

Aaron Cooke, an architectural designer and Bethel resident from the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, addressed housing needs, heating and sewage in the state. According to Cooke, many homes and structures throughout the state were designed in the Lower 48 without regard for the heating needs of the north. “We live in a place that’s hard to build modern housing,” he said. “What if we developed our own housing technologies in the modern world? What would they look like? Houses should look different for the region they’re in.”

On sewage solutions, Cooke said, “We spend a lot of time thinking about poop. Right now, we have a multimillion-dollar system that we have to warm, or we have a bucket. Between those two options there have to be middle options. So we work on point-source sewage treatment plants where it’s attached to the house and cleared for surface discharge, and we work on separating toilets that desiccate the solids.”

Dustin Madden, also with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, covered the weatherization of buildings and energy use in the Bering Strait region, illustrating regional need with data and numbers. “Bering Straits has the highest single-family home energy costs in the state,” he said. “It’s about $6,400 on average per home for the year, and more than three times the national average.” When asked why costs in the region are so high, he responded, “The efficiency of homes, climate, it’s colder, fuel costs are higher, and there are many other contributing factors. Some of the reasons are unknown, and we don’t have the full, complete answer to that yet.”

He also tied in the impact weatherization has on these costs. “Only 11 percent of occupied homes in the region are weatherized, which is a lot lower than other regions. Those who have their houses weatherized saved $2,400 in energy costs. It’s a good reason to think about how you can start a retrofit program or take advantage of the ones that exist.”

The final day of the event focused on learning, and speakers covered emerging energy technology, the costs of energy, renewables, buildings and energy use in the region, and home energy efficiency tips that can be applied at home.

Taylor Ferguson, STEM educator from the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, presented energy tips to take home. “Alaskans are wasting up to one billion dollars for energy use every year,” she said. “About one third of Alaska’s energy is being wasted.” Some simple tips she recommends include installing a programmable thermostat, wearing extra layers indoors, unblocking air vents and radiators, sealing your fireplace and check your heating system every year.

“Every degree you lower is an equivalent of 2 percent on your energy bill,” Ferguson said. “Check for air leaks. Use caulk to caulk up your cracks and your gaps. Replace thresholds and attach sweeps to your doors. Your windows, you can repair and insulate them.”

Deilah Johnson, representing the Village of Solomon, closed the final day of the summit with videos on global warming and a message on climate change and energy, encouraging attendees to discuss and create a resolution that aligns with the Paris Agreement goals within their communities, businesses, utilities and city councils.

The summit paved the way for the launch of a regional energy steering committee. Voting ballot boxes were created for attendees to submit nominations for an upcoming leadership team that will help lead energy planning towards a sustainable future for the region. Nominations will be tallied over the next few weeks, and top nominees will be contacted to assure they are interested in participating. From there, all 20 tribes of the Bering Strait region will be contacted to request consensus on the chosen names and to allow additional names to be added to the group.

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