The Y-K Delta faces the highest energy costs in the nation yet people have the lowest per capita income. Nuvista Light & Electric Cooperative, Inc. is a group created in Southwest Alaska with the goal of generating energy for a sustainable future. The coop has a new executive director as of December: Tiffany Zulkosky of Bethel.
Although she’s just 29, the Bethel High School graduate has quite the resume. She has served as Bethel mayor, worked as the Rural Director for U.S. Senator Mark Begich, and most recently as the West Area Director for the USDA Rural Development.
Zulkosky says that energy impacts every part of Rural Alaska.
“We feel it so strongly, whether it’s our monthly bills or people’s ability to go out an subsist, just to be able to maintain the way of life we’ve had in the Y-K Delta, in Western Alaska in general,” Zulkosky says. “I think it’s really important that we identify what are feasible and sustainable opportunities for us to stabilize some of those volatile prices and impacts so that we can continue to be in an area where our family and our ancestors have existed for generations.”
The State subsidy program, Power Cost Equalization, helps residents but not businesses. Nuvista seeks to become a power producer, which would sell cheaper electricity to retail utility companies who would then sell it to customers. Both residents and businesses would benefit.
The coop includes Calista, AVCP, AVCP Regional Housing Authority, YKHC, AVEC, Middle Kuskokwim Electric Company, Chaninik Wind Group, and the Lower Yukon area.
“In terms of what we do on a day to day basis at this point is trying to identify energy project that could have a net plus for both the Y-K Delta region and the Bristol Bay region,” Zulkosky says.
The main project the cooperative is looking at now is a building hydroelectric dam in the Chikuminuk Lake. That’s located between Bethel and Dillingham in the Wood Tikchik State Park. The Alaska Legislature appropriated $10 million dollars to study the project. Nuvista is trying to find out if the dam could power Bethel and about a dozen surrounding villages and then expand from there.
“Identifying whether that is a serious option in terms of an alternative energy solution that could help stabilize per kilowatt hour prices for customers,” Zulkosky says.
The project’s feasibility study is stalled because the uses of the state park don’t mesh with it. For it to proceed, the Alaska Legislature would have to change language in state law. Zulkosky hopes that happens but says the coop is not stuck on the Chikuminuk project. Nuvista’s mission is also to gather information from the region about other possible options of bringing power costs down.
For more information about Nuvista you can visit their website: www.nuvistacoop.org.