Given that our communities face some of the highest energy costs in the country, we should be focusing on energy independence and energy efficiency. Here is how one German village did it, but it doesn’t even need to be this complicated. A do-it-yourself wind turbine can be constructed for a few hundred dollars. Many of our villages are also situated near rivers that make some of the mightiest waterways in the lower 48 look like creeks. Here’s an example of a very small, propeller style micro-hydroelectricity generator. You just hook it up, anchor it and toss it into the river. I would love to see these designs improved upon and customized by DIY engineers working in our communities. In fact, if you’re living in a small, Southeast Alaska community and looking for a way to earn a living, one thing you might look at is designing, selling, manufacturing and installing alternative energy generators. Last I heard, the Inside Passage Electric Cooperative was charging $.78 per kilowatt hour (due to the price of diesel, which is outside of IPEC’s control.) For comparative purposes, the average price per kw/h in the US is about $.10. This leaves plenty of room for entrepreneurs to deliver a cheaper product while making a living at the same time. Win – win!
The second approach to solving our energy problems is energy efficiency. There are two ways we should be looking at energy efficiency; on a household level and on a community level. At the community level we should look at urban design. What is efficient and what is inefficient? It should be obvious that detached, suburban style single family homes are about the worst design we could emulate. This design format means greater heat loss (more exterior walls than dense, attached homes) and also causes car dependence by creating large distances between the places we live and the places we want or need to be. In a place where folks have to pay nearly double the national average for a gallon of gas, this is a highly important consideration. Plus, you can’t drive in or out of most of our communities anyway, so why design around forced automobile dependence? We can save our people tons of money by ensuring that our communities remain walkable. Many of them already are just because they are so small. But a disturbing trend I’ve seen throughout our communities is the continuation of suburban development patterns. This means increased infrastructure costs, more money wasted on expensive gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs in communities that are already hit hard with unemployment and a high cost of living. The solution is the Traditional City design; narrow streets, with building built side by side and right up against the street. There are many good European examples of this, but I like to look to Asian village examples for inspiration, since their heavy use of wood in their architecture matches with SE Alaska well.
The format of these ancient villages is both beautiful and highly functional. Residents of these communities can easily walk just about anywhere they need to go. Take a moment to imagine how beautiful our communities would be if we incorporated and developed traditional Tlingit architecture into the above city format of narrow streets. We’d have to beat the tourists off with sticks!
In contrast to walkable traditinoal city design, the average American household spends over $8,000 per year on transportation. This same average American, who has to own a car whether he likes or not, walks across large parking lots to get inside of large big box retail stores where he has to walk up and down hundreds of feet of aisles to make his purchases. He does this without complaint, but would balk at the idea of having to walk 2 blocks to do his shopping in a traditional style city. He would complain until you told him he could put an extra $8,000 in his pocket every year and that he could live, work and shop in a place that looks like this:
Instead of this:
Let’s save our communities money through efficient, beautiful village design. Let’s create jobs by being entrepreneurs in alternative energy. Let’s become energy independent!