Alaska is high in natural power. It’s time to lead the nation.

Alaskans pay a high price for the energy we use — higher than almost anywhere else in the country. Our energy costs us nearly twice what the average American pays per kilowatt, putting Alaska second only to Hawaii for the highest energy costs in the United States. Across the state, expensive energy results in a high cost of living for Alaskans, potentially forcing families to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table. However, our high energy costs us beyond our energy bills. Industrial development intentionally chooses not to establish itself in Alaska due to high energy costs.

Beyond pinching Alaskans’ budgets and deterring economic development, our energy — the majority of which comes from fossil fuels — contributes to the more sinister threat that climate change poses to Alaska. A recent report indicates that Alaska’s temperatures are warming two to three times the average of the rest of the world, and we’re already seeing the impacts in melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, and acidifying oceans, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars climate change is projected to cost Alaskans each year.

Alaska has a goal of 50% renewable energy by 2025. As of 2019, we’re at about 30%, so there’s more work to do. As uncertain as a renewable energy-fueled future may feel to a state born of the fossil fuel industry, the transition toward renewables offers a multitude of opportunities that have the potential to touch the lives of all Alaskans, including through creating jobs across a broad range of professions. From electricians and heavy equipment operators, to engineers and construction managers, and even to accountants and lawyers, the renewable energy industry has broad potential to ignite job growth while supporting local businesses through equipment rental, shipping and logistics, and material procurement.

Over the last decade, renewable energy has established itself in Alaska. More than 100 businesses are currently working in the state to advance, maximize or otherwise leverage renewables. As of 2019, there were 260 renewable energy projects across the state benefiting 160 communities. The operational know-how that Alaskans possess makes the state attractive to investors, too, with one renewable asset maintenance startup recently raising $3 million from national investors. Since 2010, nearly $700 million has been invested in renewable energy projects across the state, with each million dollars invested supporting 15 to 20 construction jobs. The renewable energy industry has grown to fund 40% of all-electric power-generation jobs in Alaska within the past few years.

And that’s just the beginning. As a state, we have substantial renewable resource potential. Alaska holds massive opportunity for hydroelectric power and biomass energy seaweed production in the country, 90% of the United States’ tidal energy resources, room for large-scale and micro-level growth in an already-established wind energy sector, solar resources comparable to the global solar generation leader Germany, and the beginnings of the geothermal energy industry in Unalaska.

Long story short: Alaska is rich in renewable energy.

That wealth is precious in how it translates into economic progress across the state. Renewable energy development can be a win-win across the state, providing opportunities to develop jobs throughout rural Alaska as well as in the urban centers. Even better, our state boasts a workforce already highly trained in energy production with skills that lend themselves to jobs in renewable energy—jobs that are much lower risk than traditional fossil fuel ones. Especially in rural communities, the skilled positions that renewable energy projects require offer significant sources of income in places where jobs may be hard to come by.


Additionally, trading out expensive electricity generated by diesel for cost-effective renewable-generated power enhances our rural communities’ self-sufficiently and financial sustainability.

Renewable energy development will drive and support local economic development across Alaska, in addition to fostering growth at the state level. Clean, sustainable energy can act as a tool for achieving our economic goals well into the future.

While our historically high energy costs have kept economic and industrial investment away, renewable energy looks to reverse that trend. With burgeoning wind, solar, hydroelectric, and several other renewable industries, Alaska has the potential to be a global leader in the clean energy transition. Oil and gas built Alaska’s past — now it’s time for renewable energy to build Alaska’s future.

Piper Foster Wilder is the Founder and CEO of 60Hertz Energy, a Computerized Maintenance Management System software company headquartered in Anchorage that serves customers globally. Jenn Miller is the CEO of Renewable IPP, a utility scale solar development, construction and operation company. Jenn is a former oil and gas engineer.

The co-authors recently participated in an online dialogue as part of The Nature Conservancy in Alaska’s Climate Opportunities Assessment — an ongoing effort in which Alaskan leaders and stakeholder groups are engaging on climate, the opportunities that arise due to climate, bipartisan solutions, and the long-term health of the Last Frontier. Learn more and watch the dialogue between the co-authors on the Nature Conservancy’s website.

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