Robert Thompson, Kaktovik, Alaska; founding member of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) | Photo by Patrick J. Endres/AlaskaPhotoGraphics
"When I first lived in Kaktovik in 1977, my father-in-law ran a 10-kilowatt diesel generator. It kept the entire village going. If somebody put a load on the generator, you knew it. All the lights would dim.
"Now we've got five large generators that power everything. The diesel that powers them, which is brought here by barge, costs about $6 a gallon. Our village goes through about 1,000 gallons every day, which doesn't include home heating. That's about $2 million a year. Looking ahead, there's only going to be more demand, and it's only going to cost more.
"In 2003, I helped found REDOIL [Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands]. Many of our problems as Natives in Alaska are related to the quest for oil. If there's an oil spill, that will impact the animals we rely on for subsistence. We realized we could counter oil development by advocating for a sustainable economy and sustainable energy nationwide.
"Last year, I helped REDOIL install a 30-foot, 200-watt wind turbine just outside Kaktovik to demonstrate the viability of wind energy. At the time, it was the northernmost turbine on the continent. It seemed like the logical thing to do. The wind blows 99 percent of the time here, and the cold air is dense, so it turns the turbine more readily.
"It's currently connected to a battery bank for powering tools, appliances, and a computer. I'd like to fix it up to power a small building that people could stay in when they're working on writing and photography projects about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I know a few people in Kaktovik that are now considering installing their own.
"At some point, we've got to make a change, and the wind turbine is a start. Someday I'd love to see wind turbines provide all the electricity and home heating for Kaktovik."
—interview by Molly Loomis
North America's northernmost turbine is a half mile off the coast of Point Barrow, Alaska.
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For more on REDOIL, go to bit.ly/IPI_REDOIL
Photo by Patrick J. Endres/AlaskaPhotoGraphics