According to the U.S. Census Population Finder, the estimated population of Alaska as of 2009 was 698,473. In the same year, Alaska was awarded $658,000 as part of the State Appliance Rebate Program, an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program that helps Americans purchase ENERGY STAR appliances to replace older, inefficient models. That grant worked out to less than $1 per Alaska resident - and that meant the state had to do some creative thinking.
"So the idea was to come up with a program that worked and had minimal administrative costs, so most of the money would go to the rebates," said Cary Bolling, an Energy Specialist for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (HFC), the state agency administering the program.
The state's solution: piggybacking administrative costs onto an existing energy rebate program, then aiming the program specifically at Alaskans with disabilities. Not only did this narrow the pool of potential recipients, but it targeted people for whom the savings may be especially welcome.
For people in rural Alaska with limited financial resources or fixed incomes, a few hundred dollars to put toward an appliance can make a big difference.
Remote villages – high energy and travel costs
Bolling puts it this way: "Imagine living in a small village of about 100 people. You're not connected by road to anybody, and there may be one store in that village that sells a few groceries. So you'd have to take a small plane to a hub community of maybe several thousand people, and they might have a general store where you have a few appliances."
With few purchasing options in rural Alaska, appliance costs can escalate easily.
To buy a specific appliance, Bolling notes that residents in rural communities have "to take a jet hundreds of miles to Anchorage or maybe Fairbanks. And there you might find [a retailer] where you could maybe get an appliance like this. And once you've got it, you have to find out a way to get it back, which could be by air, but mostly by barge."
Complicating matters is the fact that many of the villages in rural Alaska don't have a large-scale electrical utility, Bolling says. Instead, they rely on diesel generators at a cost of 50 cents per kilowatt-hour or more. Reducing energy use in those places can mean significant savings.
For these reasons, the program offers different rebates to disabled Alaskans based on where they live. Rural Alaskans with disabilities can claim rebates of $500 for an ENERGY STAR refrigerator or freezer and $300 for a clothes washer or dishwasher.
Through early July, Bolling said Alaskans have requested about 600 applications. That represents roughly a third to a half of the available rebates, he says, depending on how many appliances each person purchases. It's difficult to put a number on energy or financial savings this early, but the response has been good.
The response coming into Bolling's office is positive, with disabled residents and others pleased that the state is recognizing their special needs.
"Especially for people on a fixed income or who have disabilities, this really can help them reduce their energy use," he said.