A recent letter from the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative startled residents in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The letter told customers to repair their electric equipment by August or have their power cut off. While most of the repairs are minor, others require more professional handling from an electrician, which are scarce in the region.
Jeremy Osborne is one such homeowner. Osborne works at Yuut Elitnaurviat, a workforce development organization in Bethel, and also works part-time as a copy editor at KYUK. He’s one of 450 customers in Bethel who got the letter from AVEC.
“I was a little alarmed at first because they say that your electrical service will be disconnected on or about August unless you make the repairs,” Osborne said.
AVEC took over control from the local utility, Bethel Utilities Corporation, in 2013 and residents have been receiving these letters since then, according to the cooperative. AVEC recommends that residents hire an electrician to do the work, but in Bethel, that's not easy. Michael Langlie, who has co-owned The Lumber Yard for 20 years, says that it can take as much as a month to get an electrician to a house in Bethel.
The Lumber Yard stocks the electrical supplies people in Bethel may need for repairs and Langlie has seen an uptick in people coming into his store for these supplies over the past two years. Bethel has long nurtured a do-it-yourself culture because of its remote location and lack of services, which may have sparked some of the letters, but AVEC CEO Meera Kohler says that the repairs are not just confined to older homes or the result of do-it-yourself jobs. Homes and business can fail to meet code because of shifting permafrost, wind storms, or other natural causes.
Kohler says that most of the repairs are minor. She says that many just require replacing a ground rod or other repairs that people can do themselves. But what happens when they need an electrician? Kathy Hanson is another homeowner who received the AVEC letter. She says that the easy part is tracking them down.
“I think it’s not hard getting hold of one,” Hanson said. “ You see them in their trucks driving around. Now to get them to come out to your house and fix something, I think it might be rather difficult.”
KYUK tried to reach out to several electricians that were listed online or given through word-of-mouth. Out of the five that KYUK tried to call, only one, Sea Lion Electric Services, had a working phone number. And they never picked up.
KYUK also drove around Bethel for about an hour to look for one of the vans, but couldn’t find one. Osborne consulted with an electrician who’s also a friend, but is doing the work himself. He says that he’s lucky that he doesn’t have to do more to bring his house up to code. AVEC’s Kohler says that the utility doesn’t require the repairs to be made by an electrician, but she advises homeowners who might not feel up to task to hire a professional.