Governor visits Nome, listens to report on energy
By Peter Loewi
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy was in Nome last Friday for talks with the City of Nome, a listening session about energy with selected community members, a short meeting with Graphite One, and an interview with The Nome Nugget.
The governor was originally scheduled to visit Nome at the end of June, but his flight was unable to land due to bad weather and wildfire smoke.
Friday afternoon saw 17 community members representing a variety of stakeholders including Nome Joint Utilities, Nome Eskimo Community, Bering Straits Native Corporation, Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, Nome Public Schools, Nome Common Council, Norton Sound Health Corporation and representatives from Graphite One.
Senator Donny Olson, Senator and Finance Co-Chair Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) and Gwen Holdman, director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, also attended.
Mayor John Handeland said that the purpose of the meeting was for the Governor to hear “where we’re at presently and where we see ourselves going.”
“I’m just here to hear what your thoughts are,” said Dunleavy.
In his opening comments, Dunleavy said he thought this was a place with tremendous potential. He called it an important place for Alaska and the United States, but ultimately, he repeated throughout the meeting, “it’s going to be up to the people of Nome to decide what you want for your future.”
The bulk of the meeting was focused on a report prepared by the Nome Joint Utilities for the June meeting titled “Nome Community Energy Today and Tomorrow.” The report shows current and estimated energy costs, NJUS’s energy production capabilities, and a variety of options that have been considered including increasing wind power, geothermal, and even microreactor nuclear power. A report on wind power in the region to Senator Lisa Murkowski in April stated that Nome could increase its wind-generated proportion to 40 percent, up from the current 8 percent. As it was noted in the meeting, increasing wind would cut the amount of diesel used, but could not completely replace it.
A discussion on nuclear microreactors took a large portion of the discussion, but not because there is any project currently planned. In 2007, then-Mayor Denise Michels wrote a letter to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking to be kept up to date on the outcomes of their report on a potential reactor in Galena. Eielson Air Force, outside of Fairbanks, has been selected as the location for a microreactor as part of an Air Force energy resilience pilot project. It is hoped that it would generate up to 5 megawatts, about one third of the needed power.
NJUS Assistant Manager Ken Morton said that in June, they had some very early telephone calls with Graphite One, a Canadian exploration company proposing a graphite mine on the northern slope of the Kigulaik Mountains. “The load that they expressed there, on the low side, we could accommodate with a power line, but even on their average size of their anticipated load, if power was to come from Nome, we would not have the right equipment to provide that,” Morton said. Graphite One’s Mike Schaffner said that their prefeasibility study is still up to two months out, so it wasn’t clear what their energy use projections were based upon.
Another issue mentioned in the report was space heating. After summer fuel deliveries, heating fuel is estimated to cost an average Nome household over $8,300 a year, for the average consumption of 1,100 gallons at a price of $7.50 a gallon. However, if Nome was able to access more inexpensive energy, more people might switch to electric heating, which other parts of Alaska do with cheaper electricity use.
The big issue, which the meeting did not address directly, was what these stakeholders want for the future of Nome. The Port of Nome expansion will increase energy use, but the NJUS report didn’t include secondary development studies, such as the needs brought about by the buildings that might be built if the port expansion causes increased development in Nome.
“What can Nome Eskimo Community do for the City of Nome to help you, and what can Sitnasuak do if we work together?” asked Gloria Karmun, speaking on behalf of the two entities.
“You can help by doing what you did today,” Handeland said, by showing up. He noted that the meeting was by invite specifically, but that there would be more open meetings in the near future to discuss energy issues.