Developers of an upgraded online database hope it will encourage new energy investment in rural Alaska, where power costs are consistently among the highest in the U.S.
The Alaska Energy Data Gateway includes information about power costs, employment, taxes, state aid and more in a single location. The website was upgraded through a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Center for Energy and Power, the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A recently added tool, the Community Metric Explorer, allows easy access to human, financial and technical capacity data for Alaska communities.
The site has been redesigned to address one of the primary challenges for private companies looking for opportunities to develop new energy projects in rural Alaska. Accurate data for those remote areas is often hard to find, making it difficult to determine whether a community has the money, workforce and desire for sustainable energy infrastructure.
Such investment has become more necessary, given funding uncertainties in state programs that offset high rural energy costs, said Erin Whitney, program manager at ACEP. “There’s a real push here to bring together private developers with these communities so they’re not so reliant on the state or federal government,” she said.
Jason McEvers, the co-owner of Washington-based Capstone Solutions, said his company has several solar-array projects in the works in Alaska but has struggled to locate communities that are a good fit. Having solid information about energy costs, fuel consumption rates and state energy subsidies will make it easier to attract investors and develop projects, he said.
“This is something that immediately felt like it would be of great use to a great amount of people.” McEvers said. “By eliminating some of that risk, it provides a way for us to tease out what the real ripe opportunities are.”
The Alaska Energy Data Gateway has existed since 2013, but users were critical of the site for being overly academic and difficult to navigate, Whitney said. In addition to the new Community Metric Explorer tool, the database has been expanded to include new information about fuel surveys, energy prices, municipal tax records, vocational training, state community aid and the local workforce. The data was collected from a variety of state agencies and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.
This project is part of the Alaska Microgrid Partnership — a consortium of local and national stakeholders created to help Alaska’s remote communities use less imported fuel and make their energy systems more reliable, cost-effective and resilient. This upgrade to the Alaska Energy Data Gateway was made possible by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Modernization Initiative.
The updated Alaska Energy Data Gateway is online at akenergygateway.alaska.edu.