Alaska village wins DOE grant for in-river hydropower design

Early years of Alaskan offshore exploration

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A quest by a southwest Alaska village to use clean energy to replace power generated by expensive diesel fuel will get a boost from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The department has awarded the village of Igiugig a $393,500 grant to advance the design of river turbines that were tested successfully the last two summers.

The village will again work with Ocean Renewable Power Co. of Portland, Maine. The company and the village over the last two summers operated a prototype river turbine that successfully generated power. The turbine could not be hooked up to the community's power grid in 2014 but last year displaced village diesel fuel consumption by one-third without harming 1.5 million sockeye salmon that migrated upstream to reach spawning waters.

"We didn't document any negative impacts to the salmon," said Monty Worthington, director of project development for ORPC Alaska, who is based in Anchorage.

The village has been working on the clean energy project since 2004. A turbine that does not harm fish is crucial to the village, said AlexAnna Salmon, president of the Igiugig Village Council president. So is a product that can be deployed and operated with local expertise, she said.

Igiugig is a village of 70 on the Kvichak River about 250 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Ocean Renewable Power Co. in 2014 unveiled a prototype turbine with backing from the Alaska Energy Authority and the Denali Commission. The partners needed heavy equipment and two large boats to place it on the river bottom.

At the end of the summer, the turbine was pulled out and modified. The improved device was reinstalled with a single fishing boat, Salmon said, and was 30 percent more efficient.

The eventual goal is commercializing a product that could be used in other river communities in salmon habitat.

The next iteration of turbine will be designed to be more durable and more user friendly, Worthington said. The parties will use the grant to study the effects of river ice and design a machine that does not harm salmon smolt migrating downriver to the ocean.

The federal grant is one of three awarded for river turbine design. Funding to build the turbine is not assured. The DOE will choose two of the three designs for additional funding, Worthington said.

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