Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tanana -- Tiny City in Yukon Takes a Giant Renewable Step

A city of 300 in Alaska is at the cutting edge of bioenergy.

The Backstory

It's ironic. In resource- and fossil fuel-rich Alaska, Tanana residents are paying more than seven times the national rate for their electricity and are shipping in diesel fuel to heat their buildings and water.

Probably the name Tanana (pronounced TAN-uh-naw) doesn't ring a bell. No wonder: It's not just rural, it's remote. Accessible only by air and river (which is how the diesel arrives), this central Alaskan city is about an hour's flight from Fairbanks and two miles below where the Tanana and Yukon Rivers meet.

A Subsistence Lifestyle

Tanana is helping put woody biomass on the Alaskan map. By harvesting local wood for energy, the city is becoming more efficient and self-sufficient. The plan is to reap wider benefits by sharing their experience with other rural communities. (Image: Alaska Community Database Community Information Summaries)
About 80 percent of Tananans are Native American, 18 percent Caucasian, and there's a smattering of Latinos and others.

"Subsistence is the primary way of life," city manager Bear Ketzler says. "Be it hauling water or getting your own firewood or harvesting berry products and moose and fish and things like this."

Utilizing local natural resources is key in a place where staples like milk (at about $10/gallon) and fresh vegetables (tomatoes fetch about $7-8 each, a head of lettuce about $6-7) are luxuries.

Dogs probably outnumber people there, says Ketzler, as they are integral to the economy, whether for trapping, breeding or that big Alaskan business: dog-racing.

Tanana, incorporated as a city in 1961 and as a "first class city" in 1980, is co-governed by a city council and a Native council. The median household income is about $30,000 per year with most of the jobs coming from the local government (Tanana school teachers are among the highest paid) and to a lesser extent construction.

Smokehouses are common. There's a school, a senior center, a firehouse, a tribal building, and city offices. There's one B&B, one general store, and 38 traffic lights (in the process of being updated with LEDs). More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands