September 2014 – Igiugig is a remote village in southwest Alaska, only accessible by boat or plane. Like many Alaska Native communities, its residents rely on a subsistence way of life for their sustenance and identity. The tourism industry – comprised mostly of sport fishers visiting Bristol Bay – provides a critical source of jobs in a region where they are otherwise limited. But skyrocketing energy costs threaten the very existence of small Alaska Native villages like Igiugig, pushing many residents to relocate to urban centers. This is why a key Alaska Native Fund (ANF) grantmaking priority is to support innovative energy conservation strategies that help sustain Alaska Native communities and their long-term viability.
With ANF grant support, Igiugig Village Council (IVC) was able to replace outdated light fixtures and install motion/light sensors in one of the community’s most important buildings – its airport and tourism support facility. This facility provides the only cultural exhibit space in the village for tourists and visiting dignitaries but it also costs the most to operate. As a result of the project, IVC has effectively cut the building’s energy costs in half!
In addition to the infrastructure updates, IVC’s project includes an educational component to help students understand how electricity is made at the Igiugig powerhouse, how it is transported to their homes and why environmental conservation is important to their community. According to Kannon Lee, Environmental Director of IVC, “Students will benefit immensely from an educational component because many do not understand how something as simple as leaving the light on can adversely affect the cost of living in our village, and that something as simple as turning a light off, can help sustain the community and bolster our subsistence way of life.” Educating them about what happens when you leave a light on and where the power for the lights comes from will help reinforce energy efficiency behavior and contribute to Igiugig becoming a more sustainable rural community.