Through technical and financial assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Remote Alaska Communities Energy Efficiency (RACEE) Competition, a remote Alaskan village that faces a high energy burden was able to implement energy-saving solutions that will reduce the community's electricity consumption by 15% and fuel costs by over $50,000 annually.
An emblematic Alaskan village in terms of size and remoteness, Holy Cross is located along the Ghost Creek Slough bank of the Yukon River and is home to 174 residents and members of the Deg Hit'an Athabascan culture.
Located off the road system, the village receives goods by infrequent air service and seasonal barge shipments, which make for high energy and shipping costs from diesel fuel. Diesel also provides heat and electricity for Holy Cross' 65 households, who pay over $6 per gallon and have an average energy burden of 10% (see the Low-Income Energy Affordability Data (LEAD) Tool).
By participating in RACEE, the City of Holy Cross received financial and technical assistance to implement heat recovery and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, building insulation, and lighting retrofits—all of which will help the community save energy and money for years to come.
Additionally, Holy Cross experienced an unexpected benefit when they transitioned their community hall, which received building envelope upgrades in the RACEE project, into temporary accommodation for residents and visitors to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Read more about the project's details below.
RACEE Project Outcomes for Holy Cross
- Expected reduction in annual electricity consumption of 100,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or 15%.
- 8,000 kWh annual solar energy production.
- Expected reduction of annual fuel consumption of 10,000 gallons.
- Annual fuel cost savings of $50,000.
- 10 local jobs created during construction.
- Building improvements created additional community space, which was utilized as quarantine lodging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The goal of the RACEE competition was to advance the implementation of affordable, resilient, and clean energy efficiency solutions for remote Alaska communities. RACEE assisted rural cities, villages, and tribes, including Holy Cross, with their unique energy challenges. In addition to the assistance provided by DOE, the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) provided direct technical assistance to RACEE recipients throughout their projects.
Before work began, AEA conducted energy audits in public buildings and facilities to help Holy Cross identify which energy measures would be most effective for their goals. As part of RACEE, Holy Cross pledged to reduce their energy consumption by 15%.
To meet this goal, the following projects were identified and executed by the City of Holy Cross and the local nonprofit Tanana Chiefs Conference:
- Install a heat recovery system and improve the building envelope for the city office and community hall.
- Improve building envelopes and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in tribal and school district buildings.
- Conduct community-wide LED lighting retrofits in individual homes.
- Connect a solar PV system to the water plant to reduce electricity costs.
As a grant recipient of the RACEE Competition, the City of Holy Cross committed to reducing its energy use by 15% per capita over 2010 levels.
In 2010, the community used 674,638 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 196,739 gallons of diesel, which equated to a combined energy use of 29,452 million British thermal units (MMBtu), about 165 MMBtu per capita.
By 2021, the Holy Cross project is expected to have decreased electricity use by 100,000 kWh (15% decrease) and 10,000 gallons of diesel. Because of this reduction in electricity and fuel use, the community is spending less on energy costs and is expected to save $50,000 annually.
90% of the work performed for Holy Cross' RACEE project used local labor.
In addition to the realized energy and cost savings, RACEE benefitted Holy Cross' labor force. Due to the remote nature of Alaska communities like Holy Cross, jobs are difficult to come by. A majority of Holy Cross' RACEE grant work utilized local labor, providing valued employment for these residents.
An unexpected outcome was that the rehabilitation of the community hall enabled it to be used as a quarantine facility during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before receiving weatherization retrofits, Holy Cross' community hall was nearly uninhabitable due to excessive heat loss. During the RACEE project, Holy Cross made building envelope improvements to the community hall, including sealing leaks and adding proper insulation. In addition, Holy Cross added a heat recovery system that moves waste heat from their electrical generators to the community hall.
Shortly after these energy efficiency measures were implemented, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The addition of the heat recovery system and building envelope improvements to the community hall could not have come at a better time for this remote community. Because the building was now warm and comfortable, Holy Cross was able to repurpose their community hall into lodging for residents and visitors to quarantine during the pandemic and keep the rest of the community safe.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Projects Implemented
Building Envelope and HVAC Improvements Improve Comfort
One of Holy Cross' goals for their RACEE project was to improve comfort at their school, which had not been brought up to code for roughly 40 years. To do this, the community improved the school's building envelope, ensuring adequate insulation and proper sealing. Additionally, certified personnel improved the efficiency of the school's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. After fine-tuning the HVAC system to ensure it functions as designed, the community has noticed a big difference in the comfort levels at the school, which can now maintain the temperature set on the thermostat.
Community-Wide LED Lighting Retrofits
To further reduce diesel dependence across the community, Holy Cross performed village‐wide retrofits, replacing outdated, inefficient lights with LEDs. Each household has benefitted individually from the cost savings of these LED lights, and the community has benefitted from the reduced energy consumption and increased tribal energy security. When asked if the community will continue to implement energy efficiency measures like these, Melinda Gregory, the City of Holy Cross administrator, said, "I see in the future our community wanting to be more energy efficient. I think [energy efficiency] will eventually kick off and go somewhere great."
Solar PV System for Water Plant
As part of their RACEE project, Holy Cross partnered with Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), a non-profit providing technical support to tribes in Alaska's interior region. TCC's rural energy coordinator, Dave Messier, said, "We try and get at least a small renewable project in every community we work in." In the case of Holy Cross, this was the installation of a 4-kilowatt solar PV array on the roof of the tribal building. This solar PV system was connected to Holy Cross' water plant, which has reduced operating costs for the community.
The Remote Alaska Community Energy Efficiency (RACEE) Competition was a $4 million initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy to accelerate energy cost saving efforts in remote Alaska communities. In 2015, 64 Alaska communities and villages pledged to reduce per-capita energy use by 15% by 2020. A subset of pledges was selected to receive technical assistance. Of those communities, seven worked on competitively selected implementation grants, including the City of Holy Cross. More information about the RACEE Competition can be found on the RACEE Competition webpage.
More information about Holy Cross can be found on the Tanana Chiefs Conference website.