Remote is remote…….


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Currently being at an international conference, I was able to talk to someone who is in higher education about the situations run into per ‘frontier’ conditions.  She spoke of living in a smaller city in Australia, and similar to those who live on the Yukon River during breakup here in the ‘Last Frontier’, she described the annual resignation to the 2 weeks of seasonal rains that force people to stop traveling until the flooding has stopped.

This is not far from the reality of what those in villages up river experience when around late March they box things up in their log homes that are built on the ground (typically the Yukon Flats area) and put them all up on ~2.5 foot wide shelves which are stabilized about 2 foot from the ceiling. When the river is clear of ice jams and the danger of major flooding is over the boxes come down, are unpacked, residents can be more mobile once again.  The Australian educator I spoke with mentioned that when their two weeks of immobilizing rains end, then  travel resume.

Of course it’s the times when rains or river ice suddenly bust open (especially while people are sleeping or when they do not expect the annual events) which leads to disaster recovery needs- and possibly evacuation with an emergency kit in some cases.  The  miles and miles of ice dammed up in Galena in May 2013 wasn’t unheard of, but it was the sudden shifting and release that caused people to evacuate, have their power plant fill up with several feet of water and made for very hasty evacuations.

In rural Australia or Alaska,  remote  communities can at times be ‘stopped’, isolated  from river or air travel and faced with problems well beyond inconveniences of cancelled school for kids.  The key is to have prepared.  That would be getting the physical structure prepped as well as can be expected ahead of the disaster so that it stays intact and allows for a quick clean up and relocation of major items  (how water heaters, drawers china hutches/cabinets, etc…} once the  earthquake, tsunami, or seasonal  flooding runs out of the area. (And of course, the other piece of preparation is having an emergency evacuation kit stocked and ready to go at all times with seven days of supplies for each member and pet in the home).

Insulation and all


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I just returned from the first day of meetings with educators from around the world, and met two folk from Quebec.  They asked about what an energy specialist does and when I described as best as good (as French being his primary language) the range of education the translated question was “do you insulate or do solar panels?”

It brings up the difference between retaining space heat and generating/distributing heat (as well as the difference of providing technical assistance and referrals versus doing installations).  The cost of each (retaining vs. generating) relies to a good extent on overhead fixed costs for materials or equipment.  Yet everyone in the business pretty much agrees that the ‘low lying fruit’ of investment and effort should first be put into insulation and heat retention before even deciding what form of generation (or distribution) you should take on.

In cases where there is hydro (such as Montreal, thus providing electricity at $.09 a kilowatt hour) the cost put into further insulation will not have great an advantage as putting in a new, more efficient heating system but it will most likely still be the biggest bang for your buck to insulate first. (And of course the cost of fuel- local or imported- plays into the amount which generation will top insulation improvements).  What was your bill the last quarter of Sept. 1 2016 to Dec. 31 2016? What R insulation do you have in your attic, walls and floor?  Have you had any weatherization blower door test to see how secure your vapor barrier is? Or have you ever had an infra-red gun analysis of the exterior of your home?  These would be good things to look up before getting through the next quarter (ending April 30, 2017)!









New Technology to create a better air heat exchanger


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Today I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from a professor from Beijing University of Technology’s Department of Building Environment and Faculty Engineering on a new type of flat plate solar collector (for residential hot water).  By using a novel collector and absorber, various tests were described when tinkering with amibeint air temperature, pressure in chambers and tank temperature -which I did not understand all of. I shared lessons Rich Seifert found out down the road.

But the diagrams were fantastic and well labeled so that the efficiencies were understood at a comprehensive level.  It was a very nice presentation in that it had spec diagrams, and photos of the actual units being tested in the field.  This was a nice way to explain things in theory and reality…..

The conference has been a good mixture and quite an interdisciplinary venue.

A bit more oil…..


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In a year where it seemed like bad news went to worse as far as Alaska’s oil revenues there was a glimmer of hope. This year PFD’s were cut in half though the rolling multi-year average dished out one of the highest ever- due to a lack of State revenues in other areas.  And shortly after a very close passing of a tax credit referendum to oil companies as an incentive to drill, there was a strong drop in prices that bottomed out around the first of the year which made extraction of arctic crude improbable.  The end of the year also found the outgoing President taking actions to restrict future drilling in the Arctic (offshore).

The good news however, is that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System announced that the annual through put of oil pushed down the pipeline was an increased amount over last year.  So while -in a simple sense- profits equal quantity (which increased as raw product) multiplied by price (which has been suppressed but slowly climbing), whether Alaska sees an increase in final revenues on its oil remains to be seen.  But in the immediate more oil flow is a positive (financial) omen!


Polar energy

While the U.S. had responded to the stranglehold OPEC had on it during the early ’70s oil embargo by putting in the Alaska Pipeline, Russia also went to it’s polar areas for an energy solution.  In the early 1980s on Kolguyev Island the Soviet Union put in oil extraction equipment to pull up high quality light crude which it then puts out to tankers offshore for transport. Farther north, Bovanenkova on the Yamal Peninsula was explored in the 1970’s for natural gas and now is producing at the urging of Putin.

As the output of the pipeline decreases and there is no near gas project that is being developed (at this point), it may be that Russia may be better positioned to develop the opening Arctic with energy infrastructure  and transportation than the U.S./Alaska. There has already been a head start by far on claiming the ice shelf in front of the North Slope (of Russia) to the North Pole.  This is certainly true on their diplomatic end as well as legal side of Polar claims.

It will be interesting as to what energy projects, off coast or continental, will crop up the next 10 years.

Electrical outages expected in Fairbanks


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Golden Valley Electrical Association is expecting outages with the heavy snowfall as well as the increased winds over the next couple days (see Wednesday one of the big box stores was out of one pounder (green) propane canisters. Generators were sold out at GVEA yesterday. No doubt people will be preparing today for forecasted winds later.

If your power goes out, be SURE to have any type of combustion devise vented outside as indoor air quality can deteriorate if there are “open fires” in the home.  Flames from propane, white gas or even biomass stoves indoors are not a good idea per air quality.  And even devises that show no flame such as catalytic heaters are still emitting carbon monoxide.  If there is no ability to port out exhaust gasses (some heaters do provide, such as the the Zodi propane tent heater with its  3″ accordion hose and 12 volt battery operated in-line fan), then place a battery operated carbon monoxide detector near crack a window next to the heater/stove.  Read the owner’s manual to find out the manufacture’s recommendations.

You want warmth, but also clean air.  As a noted Emergency Planner has noted about the event now hitting Fairbanks, ‘it is not the cold we worry about, but carbon monoxide as the killer’.

Promo radon testing for January


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January will be Radon Action Month.  Over the last couple weeks we’ve been testing schools in the Interior.  With homes closed up, this is a good time for individuals to test their homes or rental units.  During January, for those who would like to have a short term test done by measuring voltage discharge  (other than the typical soaking of room air in charcoal canisters that are analyzed in a lab),  I can assist (within 60 miles of Anchorage or Fairbanks by doing home visits and placing two canisters in the lowest living area of the home. I can then pick up the canisters in as little as two days.

The best part is that because I’ll be measuring tiny voltage changes from the canisters on a dock I have, the tests do NOT have to be sent off to a lab and results are fairly immediate.  Now, self tests are still for sale year round at the Cooperative Extension Communications department  ($30 for short term- 2 to 3 days, or $25 for long term- 3 months to a year).

If you are interested for a January test by this method contact Art at 907-474-6366 or  Either way, have your tested your house for the peace of mind and lung health.

The end of the year, and energy law


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Needless to say, the majority of political attention this fall and winter has been on the position of the Presidency.  Under it all,  Congress has yet been trying to bring together renewable energy legislation before the holiday recess hits in four days. It is not looking likely at this point though….A resolution to have the U.S. on total renewables by mid-century had been introduced but most likely will not make it to become a bill.

The Senate and House are attempting to work out all the parts into two energy bills (which the current president has threatened to veto…).  The Alaskan Senator who is head of the Energy Committee, has been encouraging people to press on and beyond two big events:  1) The Energy Policy Modernization Act passed a couple years ago is coming from the Senate and House yet with disagreements focusing LNG/natural gas distribution,  exports, hydropower,  and biomass accounting, and the goal 2) of producing  100% clean energy generation by 2050.(It has been estimated that the U.S. is projected to create more electric generating potential from solar and wind than any other energy source).

So, with OPEC recently cutting supply we are more than likely to see (after the congressional recess) a push for more (Alaskan) Drilling with a new House and Senate.


Rural energy and Alaskan community development


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Last Friday the Department of Energy had a statewide meeting with about 3 dozen people who were interested in Alaskan rural energy from a business/finance angle.  The information is to help inform the overall department about tribal issues when it comes to energy.  There were quite a few questions about finance models. About what the government could provide as far as grants, how federal agencies can work together on one project, the likelihood of other tribes from gaming states investing in Alaskan tribal energy projects, etc…Also discussed were the real energy sinks in various rural communities such as water, sewer, schools, etc…

Several tribes spoke of wanting to get at local fuels near their villages, such as coal.  Wind and solar were the other energy sources mostly spoken of with a bit of hydro mentioned from Southeast tribes.  One even spoke of a project utilizing hydrogen to run electrical generation…..

The overall impression of someone sitting in on the meeting who possibly had not been at a roundtable before of many Alaskan rural communities was that each village had different issues depending largely on their resources per location; but also they had different starting points as well as various capacities of human capital to possibly build projects in the future!

Finally, also mentioned was the opportunity to learn with other countries through an initiative which Alaska Center for Energy and Power is putting out. ‘Applications are now being accepted for the 2017 Arctic Remote Energy Networks Academy (ARENA).  ARENA focuses on sharing knowledge and establishing professional networks related to microgrids and integration of renewable energy resources for remote Arctic communities, and has been endorsed by the Sustainable Development Working Group of the Arctic Council. About twenty participants, coming from across the Arctic, will be selected in late December to participate in the on-site program.  (Detailed information about ARENA and the application forms are available at or by contacting Alaska ARENA Program Manager George Roe, Applications should be submitted before December 9, 2016)’.

What do rocks have to do with a natural gas??


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There have been some interesting presentations at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) providers conference going on this week in Anchorage.  Sitting in on the Energy track today there were representatives from BIA as well as  Alaska Housing Finance Corporations and Alaska Energy Authority on a panel in the morning.  Energy efficiency, community development energy projects, and the possibility of the a natural gas pipeline were all discussed.

A gas line going through Alaska and Canada is still a hope for many.  Securing right-of-ways are always important ‘footwork’ prior to any project which tribal villages and tribal corporations may be consulted on if the pipe goes over their land; payments may be made for right-of-ways.  Another revenue opportunity for tribes that had mentioned by an BIA engineer is rock.  Sand.  That is, material for aggregate.  While gold, silver, oil, gas are all subsurface rights belonging to tribal corporations or the State, rocks and gravel under the surface belong to the landowner.  So in Alaska, where at this point the BIA does not hold tribal lands in trust (such as on Lower 48 reservations and Metlakatla, AK), the tribe can extract gravel and sand which has good cash value as a construction necessity when putting down the pad footprint to run a pipeline on.

So, while BIA does not hold the tribal lands in trust the message was they can provide technical assistance in setting up extraction and sales by Alaskan tribes.  Of course, it’s all about transportation.  The gravel and sand is used to make a stable base to transport North Slope gas; but also to get the gravel and sand to a pipeline footprint it is going to cost gas in diesel, time and drivers to haul it to the sites.  Ultimately then, it will may be proximity to roads, rivers, or coasts that determines which tribes can get the rock/sand to building sites at a  competitive cost.

Now those that remember when the original oil pipeline bill went through Congress in the mid ’70s it was a small interior village that pretty much put a halt through court action of the construction until land rights were sorted out (hence Alaska Native Claims Settlement  Act- ANCSA- was born).