Last week ACEP Research Assistant, Jeremy VanderMeer went to Unalakleet to speak to approximately 20 adults at a teachers conference for the Bering Straits School District. The topic of the conference was how climate change is affecting local lifestyles in rural Alaska. Participants spoke of how the reduced sea ice and changes in migratory patterns of animals have made subsistence hunting much more difficult. Walrus is an important part of the diet in the area. However, now locals have to travel much longer distances to reach safe ice to hunt on, greatly increasing fuel consumption and danger. Traditionally rural Alaskans would store food in the permafrost underground but it is becoming hard to keep the permafrost frozen in the underground freezers, due to warming temperatures. Electric freezers are a simple and attractive alternative and there are very few people who still store food in the permafrost. This leads to a high dependence on fuel to generate electricity and maintain a subsistence lifestyle.
Jeremy spoke about electrical generation in Alaska and the opportunities with renewable energy and energy efficiency to save fuel costs. Unalakleet has 6 100 kW wind turbines which saves them a significant amount of fuel each year. During a tour of the power plant the plant manager spoke of the opportunity that falling energy storage costs could offer in the near future by allowing Unalakleet to save even more fuel from their turbines, which are currently only run about 60% of their full potential.