Gene Rodrigues and Jeff Marootian from the U.S. Department of Energy toast to the completion of the RADIANCE project. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

This past weekend the Cordova Electric Cooperative (CEC) celebrated the completion of a project six years in the making that aims to enhance resilience methods for distribution grids. Leaders in the energy world traveled to Cordova to attend several days of networking and work sessions related to the Resilient Alaskan Distribution System Improvements using Automation, Network Analysis, Control and Energy Storage (RADIANCE) project.

CEC hosted a ribbon cutting and plaque unveiling at Orca Adventure Lodge on June 9 to thank the various partners who helped the project cross the finish line. The physical plaque had not arrived in time for the ceremony, so a version printed on paper stood in its place, but the absence of the actual plaque did not deter from the celebratory energy of the room.

Clay Koplin, the CEO of CEC, welcomed national leaders and elected officials at the ribbon cutting.

Jeff Marootian, a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy, and Gene Rodrigues, the assistant secretary for electricity, traveled from Washington D.C. to speak at the ribbon cutting. Both said they were impressed at the beauty and innovation they witnessed in Cordova.

“I have been to other communities that have microgrids and seen a lot of microgrid pilots … but no microgrid projects that have had such an immediate, important impact for the people of the community as they’re doing here,” Rodrigues said of the RADIANCE project.

Cordova’s power grid is unique in that it is not connected to any other large power source like those of the Lower 48. However, this isolation can make the microgrid vulnerable to damage. Resilience, as defined by the project’s goals, included protecting power grid reliance under harsh weather conditions and cyber threats, while also increasing adaptability under dynamic grid conditions. Switches located throughout the grid ensure that if one section is damaged, that damage can be isolated until remedied, leaving the rest of the grid intact and functioning. These next generation smart grid sensors ensure that the power grid can remain partially functional even under the most severe damage conditions.

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Rodrigues also spoke to the importance of local leadership.

“The folks here in Cordova have taken a next generation look at how to use local energy resources and improvements in the grid and then align that with everything that helps to protect the jobs and the health and the safety of the people in the community,” he said.

Staff from both Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan’s offices were present to share words of support for the project as well. Neither politico was able to make the meeting in person due to scheduling conflicts. 

Sullivan commented in a later interview with The Cordova Times that while he works to advocate for projects such as these, having meetings where communities can meet directly with Department of Energy personnel are invaluable.

“There is nothing more powerful than community leaders themselves making the pitch,” he said of the event.

Key partners in the RADIANCE project included the Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Department of Energy. The research components of the project were based out of Idaho National Labs, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Sandia National Labs.

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