Tok Residents Trying to Revive Biomass-Fueled Power Plant Project to Cut Energy Costs 

By Tim Ellis | Alaska Public Radio Network: A year ago, Tok was on track to become the first community in Alaska to generate its electricity using biomass. Officials with Alaska Power and Telephone had proposed to harvest scrappy timber like black spruce from nearby state forest land, process it and use that biomass it to generate electricity at less cost than the diesel fuel it now uses.

AP&T spokesman Dave Stancliff says the Tok area is economically distressed and desperately needs cheaper power than the 51 cents-per-kilowatt-hour that businesses are paying now.

“Our little grocery story – y’know, it’s just tiny – it pays $37,000 a month in power bills,” Stancliff said.

The residential rate is 31 cents per kilowatt hour, which goes up to 51 cents after 500 kilowatt hours.

“It’s not unusual for a resident on a high-use winter month here in Tok to have a $500 or $600 power bill,” he said.

Stancliff says high energy costs combined with other factors are plunging the area into “an economic death spiral.”

That’s what motivated AP&T a couple of years ago to propose building a biomass-fueled powerplant that would initially generate 2-megawatts of electricity – enough for about 800 customers. The company asked the state Division of Forestry for a timber-sales contract so they could harvest trees for powerplant fuel. Forestry came up with a 25-year timber-sales contract, and let it out for competitive bid in April. But, says Stancliff, AP&T officials decided against bidding on it, because the contract terms made it hard for the company to get reasonable financing.

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