Gov. Sarah Palin has crossed swords with conservation groups over petroleum drilling, but she earned nothing but praise Friday after announcing the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation. At a news conference announcing her statewide energy plan, Palin called for 50 percent of Alaska's power to be generated by renewable resources by 2025.
The goal addresses both urban Alaska, including Anchorage, Fairbanks and other cities that make up the Railbelt, and the hundreds of Alaska villages off the road system and power grid.
Palin called for six state utilities that serve most of the population to stop traditional infighting and take a regional approach for new power generation projects that could lower costs.
Palin also unveiled a guide listing alternative energy assets of every village in Alaska. Those resources can be developed to wean far-flung villages off electricity generated by burning diesel fuel that must be imported by barge or airplane.
"This guide will help us move to a future where, ideally, 50 percent of Alaska's electricity is generated from renewable resources by 2025," Palin said.
President-elect Barack Obama has called for 25 percent renewable energy use nationwide by 2025. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 26 states have adopted renewable electricity standards and four states have a voluntary renewable energy goal, with no specific enforcement mechanism. Washington state's goal is 15 percent by 2020 and Oregon's is 25 percent by 2025.
About 24 percent of Alaska's power already comes from renewable energy, mostly hydropower from the Alaska Panhandle. Reaching Palin's goal will take major projects to serve Alaska cities that are beyond the reach of single utilities, said Pat Lavin, an attorney for the National Wildlife Federation.
He called Palin's announcement "a defining moment in Alaska's history."
"We just became a leader among states in committing to renewable energy as the power source of the future," he said.
Alaska conservation organizations have been at odds with Palin over her push for petroleum development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf off Alaska's coast.
Kate Troll, director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance, said the governor's announcement was the first time she has officially voiced the importance of consolidating utilities, using more fuel-efficient engines, and getting rural communities off diesel.
"Together, these goals make a very forward-thinking energy plan," Troll said.
Deborah Williams of Alaska Conservation Solutions urged Palin to codify her goal to aid utilities in planning.
"That goal is nationally significant," she said.
Palin said she wants the state to continue to be a major supplier of energy to the nation but planned to take an unprecedented effort to inventory and analyze options within the state.
Joe Balash, Palin's aide on oil and gas, said there will be a continuing effort to find new power generation sources for the Railbelt, likely through a new corporation that can handle projects beyond the capability of individual utilities. Talks have been ongoing with utilities, he said, and legislation likely will be introduced in the 90-day 2009 session, which kicks off Tuesday.
The community guide is a primer on alternative energy sources as well as an inventory for projects. For example, the accompanying documentation shows that Scammon Bay, a mile from the Bering Sea in western Alaska, has the potential for a wind-diesel hybrid project, and that 700 miles to the northeast on the Yukon River, the village of Circle has potential for generating electricity with geothermal resources.
Palin energy adviser Steve Haagenson, who oversaw the village report, also unveiled the first 77 projects picked for grants from the $100 million Alaska Renewable Energy Fund.
They range from wind farms in the Aleutians, Kodiak and Delta Junction to a landfill gas recovery project in Anchorage.
State legislative leaders have cautioned that with the precipitous drop in the price of crude oil, from which Alaska earns upward of 90 percent of its state revenue, money for renewable energy projects may not be so plentiful in 2009.