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USDA grants help Native communities address costs of energy

Milolii is described as the last Native Hawaiian traditional fishing village. Photo by Tom Henry / Facebook

Native communities in Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii and South Dakota will be able to reduce the high costs of energy with grants from the Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a total of $9.7 million in awards from the High Energy Cost Grant program. Of that amount, $5.6 million will go to projects that benefit tribes, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.

"These grants will help deliver energy more cost-effectively and will help the environment," Vilsack said in a press release. "Providing this funding is one of many ways that USDA helps grow the rural economy. When businesses and families spend less on fuel and electricity, they have more money to invest in the local economy. This helps create jobs and benefits entire communities."

The grants will benefit 10 Native communities in Alaska, the Hualapai Tribe of Arizona, one Native community in Hawaii and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. A list of the projects follows:
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium – $426,916 to retrofit sanitation systems and train operators in the eight communities of Napaskiak, Nunapitchuk, Chefornak, Nightmute, Tuntutuliak, Newtok, Teller and Tununak. These communities have no road access, high energy costs and struggling economies. The project will increase energy efficiency by upgrading interior and exterior lighting; installing new controls for heating systems and laundry services, new controls for water storage and pumping; and making weatherization improvements.

Puvurnaq Power Company – $857,920 to integrate a 200 kilowatt lithium ion-based battery energy storage system into the wind-diesel power system in Kongiganak, Alaska. This project will lower fuel consumption by up to 20,000 gallons per year and save the the community about $92,000 annually.

Ipnatchiaq Electric Utility – $175,071 to 1) bring electricians to Deering for five weeks; 2) replace three deteriorated poles; 3) replace insulator caps; 4) repair the distribution system and 5) train staff at the utility to operate and maintain the system. The Ipnatchiaq Electric Utility is in Deering, Alaska, on the Kotzebue Sound at the mouth of the Immachuk River, 57 miles southwest of Kotzebue. The 122 residents are predominantly Alaska Native (Inupiat Eskimo).

Hualapai Tribe – $1,881,130 to build an electrical transmission line from Grand Canyon West to a substation operated by UniSource Energy Services. The project will reduce the cost of electricity from 46 cents per kilowatt hour to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Lowering energy costs will make housing more affordable for workers who commute to Grand Canyon West.

Heritage Ranch, Inc – $896,450 to provide equipment and technical assistance for a solar energy network that will serve 255 native Hawaiian in Milolii, in a remote southwest corner of the big island of Hawaii. The community is one of a few traditional fishing villages in Hawaii. It has no utility-provided electricity and no potable water. Residents pay high rates to have fuel and water delivered. This project will provide solar power for electricity, refrigeration and cooking, and a solar distillation kit to procure safe drinking water.

South Dakota
Sacred Power LLC – $1,406,975 to install wind turbines that will provide energy at homes in the St. Francis community within the Rosebud Sioux. Each household system will include a 1.8 kilowatt Pika T701 wind turbine, and one Pika X3001 inverter to condition the power for the grid.

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