OPINION: No contradictions at governor’s energy conference

In response to the recent commentary, “The contradictions of Gov. Dunleavy’s energy conference,” published in the ADN earlier this month, I want to say there were no contradictions and it was a fantastic conference.

It is clear that the authors of the prior commentary are not engineers, as all their complaints about the makeup and topics of the conference were that the conference was “off the sustainability rails” when in fact the when in fact the “old, white males” and the “fossil fuel” participants provided perspectives that were needed to allow a proper plan to proceed and progress to the sustainable, reliable, resilient energy production of the future. Although I am old, white, male and one who has worked in the oil and gas production area for more than 40 years, I have been pursuing renewable and alternate energy sources for Alaska for even longer. I have been advocating for long-term energy storage, such as pump hydro, hydrogen or synthetic liquid fuels as necessary for renewables to progress more rapidly. It will take much more than batteries for the cheap, reliable, resilient systems we desire.

To get a proper perspective on the content of the conference, consider what the topics from the “fossil fuel“ side really were.

First, we still need natural gas and crude oil to keep our energy sources running and to fuel the economy as we develop the needed building blocks for the energy systems of the future.

Second, the natural gas as discussed was about using natural gas as feedstock to produce blue hydrogen and subsequent synthetic low- or no-carbon fuels. We will need to depend on the internal combustion engine, or ICE, for some time, but we can provide fuels for the ICE with much more acceptable emissions. The natural gas was also discussed in terms of replacing coal in overseas markets as an immediate way to reduce CO2 output.

Third, there has been much discussion around the use of abandoned oil and gas wells for use in geothermal energy production. The fossil fuel companies need to be a part of this discussion if the renewable people want to have access to these wells. There is much more to this process than just solar cells and turbine blades.

Fourth, considering Hilcorp’s Luke Saugier being a part of the program, when looking at the abandoned oil and gas wells, be aware that Hilcorp has some of those wells which would be considered for geothermal energy productions. Also, various engineers have been talking about the use of offshore Cook Inlet platforms for installation of tidal and wind energy generators, when oil production stops on the platforms. Hilcorp is now participating in those discussions. We can make better progress when everyone who has something to contribute all work together.


I doubt the authors of the commentary critical of the energy conference bothered to check out the micro-reactors that were represented at the conference to find out just what is different about these over the “traditional nuclear reactors” that have some bad outcomes. These micro-reactors are a very exciting addition to the building blocks which are becoming available for use in our future clean energy production.

A lot of the discussion of the conference was bringing new business with our abundance of energy and resources with the intent of adding value to our resources right here in Alaska. This would mean growing our electrical supplies considerably to accommodate new sustainable industries.

Ironically, there was a contradiction in the opinion piece, which was with the authors’ reference to Alaska’s fossil fuel being what has brought Alaska into financial and energy crisis. Politics and poor policy from the federal administration is what brought us to our current crisis. We have been working our way to clean energy solutions as various technologies have matured and have provided realistic and realizable solutions. There is no single technology which will be the solution to every rural community’s energy needs or for improvement for the Railbelt utilities.

Between now and the governor’s energy conference in 2023 I plan to host some workshops and training to cover some of the design aspects for accommodating renewables in microgrids that would be incorporated into the Railbelt utility system, maybe cover how to hang a tidal generator from an oil platform, or maybe some out-of-the-box considerations for tidal energy. There are still many issues which must be discussed about the new technologies and how to make them fit together to provide the clean, cheap, reliable, resilient electric power systems for Alaska’s future.

I look forward to what next year’s conference will bring to Alaska: new ideas, enthusiasm, new businesses and new hope.

Robert Seitz, P.E., is an electrical engineer and lifelong Alaskan.

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