Tomorrow is National Bioenergy Day



What is bioenergy? It is a power or heat source that recently has been ‘alive’ (bio).  Not solar, not from the wind, not created from combustion of fossil fuels (that were ‘alive’ years ago….). You can get energy from oils extracted from seeds, crushed canola, algae, fish waste, manure, wood, etc….   Some of these sources make sense in using on location, such as a canola farmer crushing the crop in the barn to make a liquid that can be run in his/her tractor.  Others may be used miles away such as trees drug out of the forest and trucked hundreds of miles away.

In any case, one of the advantages- depending on the grow back rate- is that fuels can be collected within the region and thus extractors can take revenues and end up spending them somewhat locally. Conversely, when far off fossil fuels are used the money spend usually is far removed from the location of use.  Extraction may be up on the Alaskan slope, transportation companies may be from out of state, and refining of the crude for refined local use will probably be out of the state and maybe even country (before the fuel is brought back to Alaska to be burned).

One of the attractions of bioenergy is that on the books of carbon accounting, several fuels are considered ‘carbon neutral’ as regrowth can happen to replace what is combusted.  Some individuals also help to reduce trash waste by collecting used vegetable oil from the fryers of cafeterias and restaurants and using it in vehicles or heaters with little adaptation.  What do you have on your property or in your community that could be utilized?  How much would it take to process and refine?  Finally, how much fossil fuels could you replace with what is at hand?  Check it out, and keep on burning!



Valdez becomes ‘renewable’ for half the year

Last month the finishing touches were put onto the Allison Creek Hydroelectric Project. Backing up water through Allison Creek, it builds pressure as it approaches a steep drop and turbine below.  Thus  another power provider has become one of the utilities to run off renewable power.  Copper Valley Electric Association commissioned the $50 million Allison Creek in early October so as to eliminate diesel.  “Right now we are 100 percent hydro power, and it feels great,” said Travis Million, CEO said in Valdez, ( just under 10,000 pop.).

This will provide supplemental hydro power from Solomon Gulch Dam ( breakup to freezeup). When the ice hits, the utility turns on diesel-powered generators.  The project is half state and half privately funded so Copper Valley Electrical Association will end up paying about a million dollars a year for the next three decades to pay the project off at current fuel price levels.  The utility will join other coastal communities like Sitka, Juneau, Kodiak, Cordova which have been able to cut out diesel power seasonally (and in some cases all year).

While finessing with good engineering the power out of a free resource at hand, another community is able to diversify its electrical provisions!

Fuel for the winter, 2016-17


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Though the Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicts this winter to be higher than the past 10 year average, natural gas is seen to push coal out as the predominate fuel this winter.  In fact, though there is much national consternation over coal,  use is at it’s lowest level in the last twelve months (it makes up about a third of U.S. electricity (as does shale/natural gas). A couple years ago, natural gas and coal became tied for the make up of nation’s electricity output. A higher pricing of natural gas this year may relatively make coal more inviting from an expense point of view.

Keep an eye on those prices to see if now that dividends are in people’s accounts and the days get colder, the price will drop.  Less momentary demand in state may influence local fuel dealers!



Greenhouse heat in Delta

Many through out the Deltana area have been notified of a greenhouse heat class tomorrow.  At 2:30 on the grounds of the Delta Career Center a demonstration on a solar, three season greenhouse which has been perfected in northern climes by Yukon College instructor Bob Sharp will be on hand.  The unit will feature curved polycarb panels, vents with a solar activated fan system, places for river rock toward heat storage, and convenient  placed beds.  The idea will be to make a traveling greenhouse on wheels that can be used to showcase the design in other communities.

Examples of thermal mass stoves utilizing refractory brick and passive solar panels are scheduled.  The workshops are free and casual- no registration on these, just show up and dig in!

Any questions can be answered by calling Art at 907-322-2309.


Permanent funds are here- what do we spend on…..?


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With about a thousand bucks coming in today for residents who have qualified, you may have a hole burning in your pocket looking for worthy purchases!   Think about an investment you can make that would help you in a pinch- possibly something that would come in handy in the case of rainy flood day, earthquake or possibly tsunami event……

If you already haven’t heard of an evacuation kit that should allow you to be out of your home for 7 days or less, consider the following.  I’ve looked at the 200+ site specific disaster declarations made by various governors in the last few decades and it is apparent that many occurred as flooding events during breakup (when the temperature is cold) and many others were storm related events which caused “cold weather failure”. Many communities hit a real problem with electricity being out or down. SO, what items can you have on hand and plan for before we get temperatures below 30 degrees in this colorful autumn we now have?

Have you invested in a modern camp stove whether it be fed by white gas, wood or propane gas?  If something happens in winter, what of lighting?  Do you have a unit that can be charged by solar, adequate batteries, or even from inverters off a 12 volt vehicle?   And how about heat- do you have a source of vented heat that could keep you warm in a lawn shed, tent or other shelter if an earthquake forces you out of your home and without electricity available?  Whatever you choose to organize your items into, while you have money do think ahead about having one week’s worth provisions ready to go on a moments notice!

Environmental Health



This week the Alaska chapter of the National Environmental Health Association will be meeting in Anchorage for their annual education conference.  This happens every year with sanitarians, Public Health Service, health clinic and environmental inspection workers gathering for three days.  There are often opportunities to test for certification as a Registered Environmental Health Specialist or Healthy Homes Specialist (but this year that offering has been postponed.

Cooperative Extension has presentations in Emergency Energy/Food and Lead Ammo Education.  The event is very reasonable and covers topic relative to rural as well as urban concerns.  If you have the next couple days off you might take a look online at Alaska Environmental Health Association ( and possibly join some of the presentations.  The cost is low and company is stimulating!



Fair energy



Walking the midway last night at the State Fair as things were closing down for the night, I can tell you there is a lot of energy being generated and expended here (especially around the cotton candy booth on the Red Trail).  Aside from kiddos consuming a whole lot of sucrose though, in all seriousness there is a vast amount of energy expended to pull of a major event like this.  Think for a second that last time you walked through a majorly sized midway- all the power that goes into spinning the motors of each ride, the amount of electricity that is required to power the massive accompanying speakers, and how about each bulb- incandescent- imbedded into the ride structures.  There are also large ovens, frying vats and blenders in the food booths. With the sun going down at around 8:30pm this time of year, the last hour of the fair takes on a transformation in walking the colored trails by light!

Over in the high rafters of the Tull 4H building where I’m putting on short healthy homes and emergency preparedness energy presentations (over by the red gate, it was dedicated 3 years ago, electrical is minimal as tube  fluorescents are used up high and there are neatly spaced clear fiberglass rippled sheets that act as skylights to let light in even on cloudy days (or rainy ones like yesterday/today which figures for the last hurrah on Labor Day….).

It would probably be astounding to see what the overall electrical output is in kilowatts which MTA (the local utility located almost across the street from the fairgrounds) puts out during the 10 day or so event.  And there will be more electrical usage for breakdown and cleanup after they close the gates today, to be sure.



China manufactures solar equipment BUT….



One of the big success stories for Photo Voltaic solar production is that in the last decade the price per watt for a panel has fallen several fold, in large due to cheaper prices of Chinese manufactured panels that are exported. But what of the Chinese themselves, with more opportunities to buy from free markets within their own nation?  According to QUARTS reporter, Cassie Werber, a large number of Chinese have a personal demand for renewable energy (economically speaking). Having the largest domestic market in the world, China has the consumers to purchase their own products toward a healthy stability. But other factors limit the purchases.

Cassie notes that a minute survey conducted by Ipsos Mori pollsters sampled a minute group of 3,000 Chinese urbanites and out of those nearly 98% wanted as consumers to buy ‘clean power’. Nine out of ten (of the 98%) had a willingness to pay extra. The same number of residents stated that they believed renewables could improve air quality.

 As a nation state owner of utilities, China has grown to be the number one  investor per renewable power.  The main impetus in renewables is the pollution problem.  China has been known for years as having a ‘clog’ problem (coal induced smog) whose fatalities have rivaled Great Britain’s during the industrial revolution. Hopefully, domestic and foreign demand can help those who live in the country!


Biochar for ‘catching’ the carbon


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The USBI’s Biochar 2016 Conference just took place the past couple days!

It was labeled: “The Synergy of Science and Industry: Biochar’s Connection to Ecology, Soil, Food, and Energy”

It was located at Oregon State University, Corvallis OR and the focus was not just academic.  In fact, it was loaded with  entrepreneurs and small business owners who in the past years have made investments to develop commercial markets- one including an Alaskan vendor. There were over 5000 publications last year alone, and there had been the feeling that there has been a need to bring everyone together to swap information, lessons learned, and work to chart a way  forward for biochar to develop commercially. The conference was rich with  stakeholders in biochar research as well as  private sector folks and a few academics.


This information is going to be useful to instruct the School of Natural Resources and Extension for 3 grants wrapped around biochar as a solution to regulate moisture, microbes and nutrients in a thawing soil in many parts of the state (due to climate change).  We look forward working with the folks met from different soil type regions and uses in the next year or so as we look at 1) harvesting the heat from biochar 2) utilize the char itself!


Oil starts to take off…..


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Hopes for a big “freeze” are heating up oil prices — once again.

As one article put it this morning, ‘Hopes for a big “freeze” are heating up oil prices– once again.”‘ The article takes a demand side look at what is moving the market and noted that while two weeks ago oil had fallen below $40/ barrel, it had jutted past $45.50/barrel in the past three days.  That would be over a 10% increase in less than a half a week.  Again, demand driven even during a slow economic time.

The freeze per se has to do with quota setting that may occur within OPEC and Russia.  The scare is on due to sudden meetings coming up this fall with the cartel (in North Africa). This heating of prices may be a bit too early though, and backfire. For one, supply is still robust and in fact the cartel is pumping the most oil ever.

Frackers are starting to get back into the game in mid-America, and refineries have been full.  So, this may be a ‘mini-run’ on the market, a kind of half week holiday.  Keep an eye though as frost starts to enter the equation in Fairbanks, as the local market is set by local supply and demand! —