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EERC research aids Alaskan community

UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center is heading north to Alaska with its expertise on alternative energy. The EERC recently conducted a feasibility study to determine the most economical solutions to provide biomass energy to the entire...

UND's Energy and Environmental Research Center is heading north to Alaska with its expertise on alternative energy.

The EERC recently conducted a feasibility study to determine the most economical solutions to provide biomass energy to the entire Chugachmiut Tribal Community in the village of Port Graham, Alaska, located on the Kenai Peninsula about 180 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The village is accessible only by air or water, making traditional energy sources expensive to deliver and alternative forms of energy difficult to implement.

The EERC plan focuses on using local biomass to fuel homes and businesses rather than imported petroleum, EERC research engineer Kerryanne Leroux said in a press release. Local biomass includes timber damaged by severe weather and oil generated from fish processing.

The EERC estimates the village can save as much as 20 percent by using local alternative fuels, according to the press release.

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Other options for providing heat and power include a large-scale combustion facility to provide hot-water heat to the entire village, a gasification system for gas heat and electricity generation, or outdoor wood furnaces providing heat to three to four homes or community buildings per furnace, according to the EERC.

The Chugachmiut Tribal Community provides self-determination to the seven native communities of the Chugach region of Alaska. The EERC study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Tribal Energy Program.

Wind-to-hydrogen

project dedication

to be held Saturday

Dedication ceremonies for a wind-to-hydrogen project will take place at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at North Dakota State University's North Central Research Extension Center, one mile south of Minot on U.S. Highway 83.

The $2 million project involves researching ways to store wind energy in the form of hydrogen fuel, according to a press release. A short dedication program will include a speech by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and speakers from electric cooperatives and industry sponsors. The event is open to the public.

The project was a joint effort between a consortium of energy companies and North Dakota research institutions, according to the press release. Dorgan arranged funding through the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division.

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Wind energy for the project will come from Basin Electric's wind resources at Minot, Edgeley/Kulm and Wilton, N.D. Electricity produced by the wind turbines will be sent over the local transmission system into an electrolyzer at the project, which will separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, according to the press release.

Hydrogen produced by the project primarily will be used to refuel hydrogen-powered vehicles and a converted tractor, which will operate on a blend of hydrogen and diesel fuel.

Senate committee

funds UND

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee secured funding Tuesday to support agriculture research at UND and the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Center.

Included in the funding is $500,000 for the Energy and Environmental Research Center at UND to research water quality in the region and provide assistance that community leaders can use to make long-term water management decisions.

The Grand Forks Human Nutrition Center will be allotted $579,000 in the bill to restore federal funding cuts for ongoing human nutrition research. The funding will also be used for a new initiative aimed at reducing obesity and the health risks associated with obesity.

The agriculture appropriations bill will go next to the full Senate Appropriation Committee for consideration, according to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

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Blues insurance

premiums going up

BISMARCK - Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota has announced a 9.3 percent rate increase, starting next month, for individual health care policies.

"The rate increase that we're putting into effect is to cover the expected claims cost over the next 12 months," Blues spokesman Larry Gauper said.

"The use of services and the number of services continues to escalate," Gauper said. "At the same time, Medicare reimbursement is sometimes adjusted downward."

Gauper said North Dakota's aging population means more use of health care, but he said premiums for North Dakotans still are rising less than they are in surrounding states.

The Blues, North Dakota's largest insurer, negotiates with health care providers to try to keep medical inflation in check, Gauper said.

The Blues refunded $26 million to about 150,000 policyholders last year, after the company's financial reserves topped targeted levels.

Gauper said some people now are asking why the premiums are going up after that refund.

"Those reserves are meant to cover unexpected claims expenses - things we don't see at all," Gauper said. The reserves also are to protect members and keep the plan financially sound, he said.

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