Alaska’s clean energy sector has been getting a lot of attention this year, and, surprisingly, this is partly due to Gov. Mike Dunleavy. His statewide Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard proposal and Sustainable Energy Conference coming up in May are making headlines. A Renewable Portfolio Standard would force utilities across the state to meet an 80% renewable energy standard by 2040. The Governor’s Sustainable Energy Conference claims a place for people from across Alaska to come together and imagine a future for our state separate from extractive economies, leading the country in renewable technologies.
While these are important steps forward, the governor doesn’t have much control over where Alaska’s power is coming from. You do.
Most Alaskans get their electricity from utility cooperatives. A board of directors leads these cooperatives to ensure that the lights stay on and rates are affordable. If you pay an electric bill to one of these cooperatives, you are a member-owner, which means you have the right to elect and hold board members accountable. Across the state, board members vote on issues affecting Alaskans today and for generations. Golden Valley Electric Association decides whether Interior communities will be funding a coal-fired power plant this year. Matanuska Electric Association is once again fielding conversations about a Susitna-Watana Dam. Chugach Electric Association is working on a mitigation plan for the Eklutna Dam, deciding whether or not a once free-flowing, salmon-supporting river will return to the Eklutna people, who have been asking for its restoration for decades. Utility boards make critical decisions like these every day.
Issues this significant and impactful to our state, our favorite places to recreate, our food sources, and our way of life should have our input. So why don’t Alaskans engage in utility elections? Chugach Electric Association, the largest electric cooperative in the state, reported a record-breaking election turnout of only 12% last year. Each utility cooperative holds a monthly board meeting open to all member-owners to attend and comment. I go to these board meetings, where members of the public range on average from 0 to 5, and it is a rare occasion to hear a voice other than a director.
These elections are the most important thing that no one talks about. In a meeting where public input has been minimal, one voice can create an uproar. In an election with voter turnout rates this low, one vote can mean the difference between a coal plant and a solar farm. Utilities across the state are entering election season, and the board members elected will create our future. If you have been looking for a small step to make a massive change in your community, this is it. You have the opportunity to create a future that you want to live in; take it. Use your voice and vote. Visit your local utility cooperatives website for information on how to vote and attend board meetings.
Rachel Christensen is the Clean Energy Organizer for The Alaska Center and lives in Palmer.
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