At the recent meeting of leaders from around southwest Alaska, there was much conversation about the need for affordable energy in rural Alaska. In fact, that's pretty much led every conversation in every meeting in rural Alaska when more than a few people get together. Alaskans talk a lot about energy, despite the fact that, as the governor pointed out last week in his presentation, we are an energy-rich state. We are, however, poor in distributing that resource, he noted.

But with all that conversation, smack dab in the middle of Alaska, one island serving some 6,400 people has solved its energy crisis. Kodiak Island built hydro-powered generation facilities that provide 79 percent of their power, erected wind mills to provide another 20 percent and now has electricity that is cheaper than in many Railbelt communities. According to Kodiak Energy Association, generating power from its wind farm costs 11 cents per kilowatt hour, while electricity from its hydroelectric facility costs less than 7 cents per kilowatt hour. Generating power with diesel, by contrast, based on diesel fuel costs of $3.50 per gallon, costs nearly 29 cents per kilowatt hour. In more rural areas, that number is multiplied many times.

When we in Alaska talk about using renewable energy to provide our power, it's generally in terms of offsetting our costs -- taking the edge off our power bill a bit. We are obviously thinking way too small. While converting from our old systems to new technologies may take investment in innovation, the potential is there right now to make the switch. Kodiak Island has proved it. They are paying about 13 cents per kilowatt hour, and less than 1 percent of their power comes from diesel generation. They have turned the renewable energy debate in Alaska on its head, and now have an energy generation system that is not dependent on the cost of fuel. While we all bemoan low fuel prices and their impact on the state budget now, it's unlikely that the finite resource will remain at a low price forever. In the decades to come, chances are good that Kodiak's investment will pay off multiple times. The project reportedly cost some $37 million, but the community is saving an estimated $4 million per year as a result. It won't take long for the balance to tip in their favor with that kind of return.

Not all communities in Alaska are lucky enough to have lots of water and wind in the right places, but it's hard to believe that there aren't other regions that can find safe, ecologically sound ways to transition to renewable energy sources. Kodiak proves that you do not need to be attached to a gazillion-dollar energy grid to have low-cost power in Alaska. It is a model of an isolated community finding a way to solve its own energy crisis.

Surely there are others here who can follow suit and stop the melodrama of the struggle with energy costs. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, over 50 percent of the nation's wave energy resources and over 90 percent of the nation's river current and tidal energy resources are located in Alaska. Add to that unparalleled sunshine in the summer months, dramatic wind resources, and the fact that we are located on the ring of fire, with its many volcanoes and hot springs, and you have a real question as to why the state is not more tapped into these renewable resources. One has to wonder if it is really our geographical features that hold us back from investing in renewable energy technologies or is it an issue of fearing the unknown?

As we argue about how to develop and extract the increasingly difficult-to-acquire nonrenewable resources on which our state's bank accounts are balanced, perhaps some of our energy should be directed in moving away from powering our own homes with these sources.

Kodiak serves as a shining beacon in a sea of concern and struggle -- a region that has proved that it can be the ultimate Alaska community, solving its own problems with innovation and self-sufficiency. We might all do well to study them well and take lots of notes.

As we argue about how to develop and extract the increasingly difficult-to-acquire nonrenewable resources on which our state's bank accounts are balanced, perhaps some of our energy should be directed in moving away from powering our own homes with these sources.

Carey Restino is the editor of The Arctic Sounder and The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman, where this commentary first appeared.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.