An aerial view of Metlakatla Indian Community.
Photo courtesy of Alaska Energy Authority.

The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) recently supported efforts in the Metlakatla Indian Community to replace 61 outdoor lights with efficient light-emitting diode (LED) models, which prevented a planned shutdown of the lights due to reduced hydroelectric generation capacity and resulted in annual energy savings of about 25%. The project also supported local workforce development and training. The project was undertaken as part of the AEA's Village Energy Efficiency Program (VEEP), a grant program established in 2010 to help small Alaska communities with high energy costs implement energy- and cost-saving efficiency measures in buildings and facilities. AEA uses the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) State Energy Program (SEP) grant funding to support oversight and administration of the program. Through this partnership, DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) advances its key priorities of supporting local workforce development and promoting energy equity through investments in underserved communities.

Situated on the Annette Island Reserve—the only Indian Reserve in Alaska—Metlakatla is a traditional Tsimshian community with an active economy and subsistence lifestyle. Given prolonged periods of darkness during the winter months, reliable, high-quality outdoor lighting is important for the safety and livelihood of its 1,654 year-round residents.

In 2018, due to perpetual drought conditions that reduced hydroelectric energy generation capacity, the local utility shut off about half of their streetlights to conserve energy and reduce costs. In the wake of this decision, Metlakatla was selected through VEEP's competitive application process in 2019 to receive $50,000 in combined grant funds from Wells Fargo and AEA to replace 61 high-pressure sodium outdoor lights with LED models. Metlakatla matched the grant with $12,165 of its own funds to complete the lighting retrofits.

The retrofit has already generated substantial benefits for the community. First, the new LED lights resulted in an estimated annual energy savings of $16,613, or about 25%, which will offset the costs of the retrofit in just a few years. Additionally, the retrofit both prevented the shutdown of essential outdoor lighting and provided a better quality of light, which will significantly improve the quality of life of Metlakatla residents during the perpetual dark of the winter months.

Another notable benefit of the retrofit is local workforce development. Genelle Winter, climate, and energy grant coordinator for the Metlakatla Community, noted:

This project is in harmony with larger community goals related to energy conservation and efficiency. Local staff from Metlakatla Power & Light received training on installation and maintenance of the fixtures, thereby increasing local skillsets. Going forward, local workers will have the capacity to install and manage these kinds of projects without the need for outside assistance.

Metlakatla is actively seeking funding to replace its remaining 317 outdoor lights, which will only multiply the savings and benefits accrued by the community.

The Village Energy Efficiency Program is a great example of how partnerships between SEP and State Energy Offices like AEA can help achieve shared goals of building a more resilient and efficient energy system and create high-quality jobs along the way. Programs like VEEP that invest in rural or isolated communities like Metlakatla, and other underserved communities also help address energy equity goals. The Department looks forward to leveraging SEP resources to continue supporting AEA's efforts to reduce energy costs and build a cleaner, more resilient energy infrastructure in Alaska.

For a glimpse of what life is like in Metlakatla and other rural Alaskan communities, watch the recent award-winning documentary about two Tsimshian youth who lead Metlakatla's high school basketball team on a historic run to the state championship.

DOE's State Energy Program provides funding and technical assistance to states, territories, and the District of Columbia to enhance energy security, advance state-led energy initiatives, and maximize the benefits of decreasing energy waste. The State Energy Program emphasizes the state's role as the decision maker and administrator for program activities within the state that are tailored to their unique resources, delivery capacity, and energy goals.