Alaska Energy Systems

Alaska's electric energy infrastructure differs in many ways from that in the rest of the United States. Most consumers in the Lower 48 states are linked to an extensive electrical energy grid through transmission and distribution lines.

Alaska does not have a vast infrastructure of transmission interties that span the horizons throughout the rest of the North American continent. Alaska also lacks an extensive interconnected road system to link our many cities, towns and villages. The absence of transmission lines to share cheap power among communities and a road system to transport fuel to remote areas has a profound impact on our members' efforts to bring affordable and reliable power to consumers.

Alaskans are innovators. It's almost a requisite to living in the Last Frontier where vast mountain ranges and glacier fields, rugged coastlines or the expansive tundra present challenges to many aspects of daily life. Inspired and determined, Alaska residents have invented ways to implement 21st century technology despite obstacles.

Alaska's electric utilities exemplify that innovative spirit. Such pioneering efforts were involved in bringing electric service to some of the most remote communities in the world. Through faith and hard work, Alaskans spent many years organizing cooperatives and securing ways to obtain power for their communities. Villagers wanted the advantages electricity could bring improved lighting, economic opportunity and refrigeration. Safety was a concern, too, considering the dangers of handling gasoline lights and primer stoves.

Most electric power in Alaska comes from fossil fuels, natural gas or diesel fuel. However, some alternative energy sources are already in use. More than 50 hydroelectric power plants supply Alaska communities, from the six-megawatt Power Creek plant serving 2,700 Cordova area residents to the 126-megawatt Bradley Lake plant near Homer that generates power for Alaskans from the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks.

In addition to hydro, other types of alternative energy are being utilized by electric utilities around the state. The first utility-grade wind power farm in Alaska began operating in 1997 in Kotzebue. Chugach Electric Association operated the nation's second largest fuel cell of its kind at the U.S. Postal Service main office in Anchorage. Golden Valley Electric Association of Fairbanks operated the world's largest utility-grade battery storage system.

These successes are reflective of a nationwide movement to distributed generation. Utilities throughout the nation are adding generation capacity in small amounts dispersed throughout their service areas, instead of building large, centralized power plants. The technological advances that the movement has sparked are directly applicable in Alaska: smaller, stand-alone power plants, many based on an alternative energy source, are just what Alaska's remote communities need.

National policies promoting development of clean, renewable energy sources have spurred advances in technologies to use wind and solar energy. Advances in electronic controls and microchips also contribute to progress in energy technology.

Alaska's electric utilities are leading the way by exploring the benefits of many of these emerging technologies. As operators of integrated systems with responsibilities to customers, who often own the utility, they provide the best test of claims by manufacturers. Many are unveiling the challenges that must be overcome to use a technology within a complex generation and distribution system, where constant voltage and other aspects of power quality must be maintained. They are working closely with manufacturers, government agencies and large power purchasers in developing and refining technologies. Innovation is imperative to meet the challenges of Alaska's conditions.

Alaska Power Association member electric utilities continue the vigilant pursuit of new approaches and technologies that will help lower the cost of electricity and improve the reliability of the electric systems upon which consumers rely.

Our members' success in delivering reliable power is a result of cooperative efforts to work together to solve the problems of remote settings, harsh winters and low population densities.