Tim Bradner's article in Saturday's ADN rightly praised the accomplishments, so far, of Alaska's Renewable Energy Fund. But he missed a couple of important points that greatly change the story.
First off, Mr. Bradner made it seem like the Bush was the only beneficiary of this important state policy. In fact, projects have been funded throughout the state, including many in the Railbelt. These include electric generation using landfill gas at Anchorage Solid Waste, and hydro construction projects at South Fork and Eva Creek. All Alaskans need to be working towards diversifying our energy sources.
But what Mr. Bradner got truly wrong is the intended time frame for this fund. He said it should be three years and $250 million. The original bill that created the fund in 2008, clearly spells out the intent of the legislature that "each year, for the next five years, $50,000,000 ... be appropriated to fund projects." (HB 152, page 2, line 29).
After many years of work by several legislators including myself, the bipartisan bill passed in the last weeks of the 2008 session. The first $50 million was put in the FY 2009 capital budget, which also passed in 2008. But then that summer when oil hit $140, we went back to Juneau to work on the problems of high energy costs. The energy bill included the $1,200 "resource rebate" that we all got added to our PFD that year. It also included a second $50 million for the Renewable Grant fund. The bill specifically said that the extra funding should "supplement the appropriations described in" the bill creating the fund (HB 4001, page 2, line 31). With the leadership of Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, we made a statement that conditions warranted spending an extra $50 million, raising the planned total to $300 million.
The Legislature backtracked in 2009, putting only $25 million in the FY10 budget. Worse, this past year we put in the full $50 million for FY11 but Governor Parnell vetoed half of it, slashing $25 million from the program. Total funding over three years has been only $150 million, meaning that over the past two years they took back that extra money that we added in the summer of 2008. And by spreading the word that this is a three-year, rather than a five-year program, Gov. Parnell is implying that this program might be done. This is no time to claim "mission accomplished." We are far, far from done.
A key graph inside the energy authority's report illustrates the so-called "funding gap." It shows that our utilities' debt capacity is short by up to $7 billion from being able to meet Alaska's energy infrastructure needs over the next 50 years. We've put an excellent framework in place to provide state funding to local-scale, high- impact projects that will help close that funding gap. Now is not the time to slow down. Gov. Parnell and the new Legislature must honor their commitment to fund an additional $150 million, at least, for renewable energy projects in the next two years.
Rep. Harry Crawford has represented House District 21 (East Anchorage) in the Legislature since 2001.