Tiny Alaska village hopes to cut energy costs with experimental river power
June 16, 2014
By Suzanna Caldwell | Alaska Dispatch: In Yup’ik, the word “igiugig” means “like a throat that swallows water,” so it’s more than fitting that the village of the same name would be the test ground for one of Alaska’s first river-powered electrical generators.
The Ocean Renewable Power Co. is getting ready to put its RivGen Power System generator in the water outside the village in early July. The generator is powered by the Kvichak River, taking the river’s current and producing renewable energy for the tiny Southwest village of 70 people.
Marsh Creek contractors recently finished building the machine, which looks like a giant underwater wheat thresher. Last month, it was getting prepped to be trucked to Homer, where it will be placed on a barge for shipment to Bristol Bay and then floated up the Kvichak River to its permanent location outside the village.
Igiugig is an ideal test location for such a device, according to Chris Sauer, president and CEO of ORPC. The village is close to the headwaters of the river at Lake Iliamna. That means the water is clear, without extra sediment, and there’s less chance that big debris — like logs — will come through and clog the system.
Sauer said the unit should be able to run for about five years before it needs to come out of the water for a routine evaluation. The company is working on a plan to create a debris-diversion system and a coating to protect the generator’s blades from being worn down by silt that might be an issue in more extreme environments.