Because pricey diesel fuel must be barged in, residents of Angoon pay four times more for their electricity than people in Juneau do.
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"It has really been tough," said Jodi Mitchell, chief financial officer of Inside Passage Electric Cooperative, which supplies energy to several rural communities, including Angoon.
"I can't speak for them, but it is obviously hard. I don't know how they do it," she said.
The utility company has noticed that residents are cutting back more and more - even during long, dark winters.
To decrease costs for the 650 residents, Angoon's Native village corporation, Kootznoowoo, has been working toward construction of a hydroelectric plant at Thayer Creek, roughly six miles north of the Admiralty Island city.
Now, that project looks more of areality than ever before, officials say.
Last week, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement and will solicit comments for 45 days after it is published in the National Registry, which will be either today or May 25.
The report details environmental effects and ways to minimize them for the construction, maintenance and operation of the project. One of the greatest concerns has been whether salmon spawning areas would be adversely affected.
Because of the project's upstream location, they won't be, said Kathy Rodriguez, district ranger for Admiralty Island National Monument.
Hydroelectric power has been explored as a possibility in the rural village since the late 1970s, when a study was completed detailing the potential for not only Angoon, but also Craig, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Kake, Kasaan, Klawock, Klukwan, Pelican and Yakutat.
In 2006, the regional Native corporation Sealaska completed a study on the viability of renewable energy sources - including wind and hydroelectric - in many of the same communities, said Todd Antioquia, director of communications for Sealaska.
The draft environmental impact statement is available at "The Muskegger".
"For many of the communities that are already affected by a downturn in their economies, (high energy costs) only compounds the economic effect," he said.
Several communities have experienced a decline in population as people move to urban areas to escape the high cost of living.
"That is a trend our board is very much concerned with," he said.
The project in Angoon now depends largely upon whether it can be paid for, Mitchell said. Her company is working with the project developer, Kootznoowoo, to find money.
Thursday, they learned of grant funding from a federal program, Rural Utility Service Electric Program through the Department of Agriculture, which offers a maximum $5 million per project.
She said Peter Naoroz is lobbying today for the funds in Washington, D.C.
"We have been successful through them in the past. I think we probably have a good chance," Mitchell said.
The most recent estimates in 2003 put the project cost at $8.7 million, but Mitchell said it is likely more than $10 million now.
"Obviously prices have gone up since then," she said.
Prices for diesel also have risen roughly 10 percent per year, making the project more cost-effective.
In 2003, the cost of power was 18.2 cents per kilowatt hour. Residents now pay 42 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 10 cents in Juneau.
Some subsidies are available through the state, but they are not enough to stay in line with the rising costs.
"Our goal as a utility is to stabilize our rate and not have this upward slant in the cost of power. And then ultimately that will spur development in the communities," Mitchell said.
Brittany Retherford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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