Arctic Energy Programs

Input from local residents about energy use has been a basic component of the NSB Residential Energy Conservation Program. Here, a resident of Anaktuvuk Pass is being interviewed during the energy audit of his home. Pictured left to right are Nolan Solomon and Harry Kaleak, both members of the NSB Utility Advisory Board; Pat Shiflea, energy auditor of Heat Loss Analysis; Johnny Adams, NSB energy planner who is conducting the interview; and house-owner Johnny Rulland.

NSB Leads the Way in Energy Planning

Old Ways, New Technology Team Up for Energy Conservation

Nowhere in the country is energy planning and conservation more important than in the Arctic. It would be hard to overestimate the seriousness of the energy situation in the Borough villages, where the chill factor can be as low as -100 degrees E and the fuel costs for a single residence can be as high as $5,000 a year. Coupled with the sub-standard housing and low per-capita incomes which still prevail in many parts of the Arctic, the rising costs of fuel have created a major crisis in the North.
Like other regional districts throughout the U.S., the people of the North Slope Borough have taken the initiative in planning for efficient energy use and long-term supplies. As in other areas, experimentation and diversification of energy supplies has been encouraged. In Borough-related projects, new standards of conservation have been set. The Borough has initiated plans in all the villages also to bring private residences up to energy codes.
The NSB is one of the first local governments in the state with formally adopted energy policies and successful funded energy-saving programs. In other parts of the state, some 30% of those who have state-funded energy audits have implemented the recommendations. In the NSB, the percentage has been 100%, mainly due to the impact of the Borough programs and high level of community support.

Eben Hopson's Goal: Restoration of Inupiat Efficiency

The Borough's commitment to energy conservation began in the administration of the late Eben Hopson, Sr. Borough energy planning consultant Earl Finkler, now with Construction Systems Management (CSM), remembers sitting around a table with Hopson and Finance Director Lloyd Ahvakana and talking about the traditional Inupiat concern about energy use and conservation. It was Hopson's wish that the young especially would be made aware of the old practices and values.
As a result of that concern, the then Planning Director Herb Bartel, Borough Utility Director Kent Grinage, and Finkler prepared the first study on residential energy conservation. Questions were asked on how much it would cost to retrofit all the houses and where the funds would come from. Local hire for the work was discussed as well as the development of alternative energy resources.

The Borough's Energy Policies

The Borough commitment to energy efficiency was formalized in February, 1981, when the NSB Assembly passed a resolution endorsing Mayor Adams' twelve energy policies on local energy resource management, energy conservation, and alternative development. Those NSB energy policies (see box) included plans for seeking federal and state energy assistance and the need to lower fuel costs in the villages where the NSB operates the utilities and where energy costs are astronomical.
When Eugene Brewer became Mayor in the Fall of 1981, he gave his full support to the energy policies of the Adams administration. By the beginning of 1982, the Residential Energy Program in Anaktuvuk Pass, Nuiqsut, and Wainwright were well under way and plans were being laid for similar programs for the other villages. A wind-generator system was being designed for the new Kaktovik Community Building, with full community participation. Coal studies and demonstrations were underway in Wainwright and Atqasuk. Waste heat recovery for the production of additional electricity and building heat has been planned for the Barrow power plant.
The NSB Utility Department by now had its own state-certified energy auditor and planner, Johnny Adams, who personally supervised many of the energy audits, translated for other auditors, and helped demonstrate residential energy-saving practices. In July , 1981, the NSB Assembly approved a separate CIP item for energy conservation projects.

Anaktuvuk Pass: The First Completed Village Audit Program

In October, 1982, Heat Loss Analysis and CSM of Anchorage presented a report to the Borough on the completed Anaktuvuk Pass Residential Energy Program, The report stated that people in the village now pay a minimum of 15 percent and more of their annual income for fuel and electricity. Heating costs are at least 10 times higher than they are in Barrow, where gas from nearby fields is sold by the government to Barrow Utilities and Electric Company for local use.
Utilizing funds available from the State's residential energy conservation program, and utilizing the services of Heat Loss Analysis in conducting the audits and CSM in supervising the retrofits, the Borough program in Anaktuvuk Pass--the first project completed--produced the following results:

1. 100 percent implementation of energy audits.

2. Over $21,000 paid to local hire retrofit crews.

3. Extensive community education in energy conservation.

4. Three-year payback period for the project, after which
energy saved will be free for the life of the building.

The cost of
the project
was distributed
in this way:

Total Cost


State Reimbursement


NSB Contribution


The savings will be:

First-year savings

$ 14,000

Ten-year savings


Similar figures are projected for the programs in the other villages.
Among the conclusions of the study are the following recommendations:

1. The $300 state limit for conservation retrofits is unrealistically low for rural applications. Every effort should be made to make the state realize that the Rural Energy Conservation Program can be of great benefit, but only if it receives adequate funding.

2. The Anaktuvuk Pass project should be followed up with ongoing maintenance programs and periodic reevaluations of residential energy status.

3. There should be public funding for a series of Native-language energy conservation education programs.

4. The NSB should consider higher thermal standards for new construction and thermal retrofit goals for existing housing.

The Special Challenges of the Arctic

Johnny Adams talked about some of the problems in retrofitting in the Anaktuvuk Pass project:

Many of the older houses built some fifteen years ago were disastrous. Fifteen to twenty years ago there was no airport and not even a store to buy proper materials to make a house energy efficient... Some built slab-on-grade 2X4 floors, wall, and ceilings which gives it a R-ll insulation value all around. The present H.U.D. standards are R-38 ceiling, R-19 walls, and R-19 floors. To make proper adjustments means a whole new shell around the house. A few are still occupied which are like that. I believe that even weatherstripping and caulking wouldn't make any changes in 2X4 R-ll insulated houses.

Early in the project, it became evident that the criteria for the state sponsored audits and many of the questions on the forms were meant for urban, not rural situations. As Adams commented, "it became a concern to develop a format for rural areas to simplify the matters, but no one seems to have a reasonable answer except to omit those questions not applicable."

Village Elders Energy Input

As the late Eben Hopson had planned, the knowledge of the village elders occupied an important position in the Borough conservation program. Johnny Adams emphasized the importance of communicating in Inupiat during the energy audit. "Knowing that communication is most important to understand our project," he said, "1 find that speaking Inupiat greatly influenced our program. Once you get across to the people about our project, the easier it gets on the energy audits. They will pinpoint every place that gets cold or that has cold drafts. Some of the residents were using caribou skins for weatherstripping around their doors. It provided a good sealant around the whole door."

Even more central to the program is the knowledge of the elders about old conservation practices. Of most interest are the descriptions of the old sod-houses used in traditional times, which were highly energy-efficient. Ernest Kignak, a Barrow elder, was interviewed by Johnny Adams for a story about the sod house which was published in one of the Borough project reports. Several builders and planners are carefully studying different features of the sod house which may be included in new designs, such as the cold-trap entrance, the use of skylights instead of windows, and important exhaust vents for eliminating excess moisture buildup. The engineering of these old sod houses, which were comfortably heated by one or two seal lamps, have important lessons for today's energy users and planners.

As energy costs continue to mount for the residents of America's Arctic, the Borough's energy conservation programs have taken on a new importance. The Borough Assembly is presently considering ways to bring the residential energy audit program to the other villages. "We have set higher thermal standards for new housing," Mayor Brewer remarked. "There is no going back now. We won't stop until energy-efficient housing is made available to every family in the Borough."

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