The Land of the Midnight Sun has an Alaska-sized opportunity for solar-powered economic growth.
Around the world, private sector demand is driving unprecedented volumes of renewable power development. Meanwhile, technological progress continues to push down the price of projects. The United States has the opportunity to become a leader in solar manufacturing thanks to the forward-thinking advanced manufacturing provisions passed in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This legislation is forecasted to bring in over $600 billion in new investment and over 100,000 more jobs in the industry. Those investment dollars will flow to the states that have policy certainty for the clean energy transition that is underway. Today, Alaska’s solar power is more affordable than power generated by natural gas, and it would be a major missed opportunity for this state to ignore the economic growth potential at its doorstep.
Now is the time to harness this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
We recently shared this message with Alaska state legislators during a presentation before the House Energy Special Committee, the backdrop being the Legislature’s consideration of bills introduced in March that would establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard. This would set binding goals for our state’s five urban electric utilities to source at least 80% of their energy from renewable sources by 2040. Our testimony highlighted the example of the Houston, Alaska Solar Farm, an 8.5 megawatt installation developed by Anchorage company Renewable Independent Power Producers (IPP) to serve the customers of Matanuska Electric Association. Financed by CleanCapital, whose mission is to invest in the clean energy transition, with initial partnership support by Launch Alaska, this project will employ dozens of Alaska workers and benefit local consumers with stable and affordable energy prices. The solar development broke ground last fall and once complete, it will power 1,400 homes in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, providing customers with long-term, stable energy prices.
The IRA has broken down barriers for project developers by helping them to secure regulatory approval and quickly access financing. To be approved, the Houston Solar Farm had to prove to regulators that it was a more economical choice than natural gas generation and would not increase rates. Additionally, in order to finance construction, the project’s developers utilized a new business model, leveraging debt and tax equity created by the IRA, and associated clean energy tax credits, among other levers.
CleanCapital invested in this project because of the belief that there is a proven, repeatable way forward to bring stable, low-cost utility-scale solar power to Alaska that will also support the state’s economy. Having invested in 26 states and U.S. territories, CleanCapital has a proven track record of accelerating the flow of capital into projects like the Houston Solar Farm.
In Anchorage, which currently generates most of its electricity from Cook Inlet natural gas, local businesses identified high energy prices as a “top 10″ significant barrier to growth, according to the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.’s 2023 Annual Business Confidence Index Report. Alaska’s electricity prices are among the highest in the country. At the same time, Cook Inlet natural gas producers are sounding the alarm about depleted supply, raising the prospect of importing natural gas and significantly increasing the region’s already-steep energy cost, as well as our vulnerability to global energy disruption.
Alaska has a unique opportunity to pivot to a different system, sparking enormous economic growth in the process and long-term energy security.
Solar is becoming the lowest-cost option for new electricity generation in most of the world, reports the International Energy Agency. Plummeting solar costs coupled with strong demand for renewables is prompting a surge in deployment and investment: In 2021, the solar industry generated nearly $33 billion of private investment in the American economy. CleanCapital alone has invested $1 billion in commercial solar assets to date.
In Alaska, renewable energy-related construction generally creates 15 to 20 jobs per $1 million invested, according to local analysts. Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company estimates the growing global renewables industry will need an additional 2.8 million specialty trade workers by 2030. It is estimated with the IRA in place that renewable energy industry jobs will double. This is a prime time for Alaska to join the clean energy transition and capitalize on economic growth.
While the Renewable Portfolio Standard legislation did not pass this year in Juneau, we urge the Alaska Legislature to continue to move these bills forward with hearings and analysis in the interim months to prepare for 2024 deliberations on this important policy. Now is the time to spur growth, provide regulatory certainty to the private sector and increase energy security for Alaskans.
Isaac Vanderburg is president and CEO of Launch Alaska, an Anchorage-based nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating Alaska’s energy transition and deploying cutting-edge climate technologies across Alaska.
Jon Powers is co-founder and president of CleanCapital, based in New York City. Powers is a U.S. Army veteran and clean energy and national security expert committed to making clean energy accessible to everyone.
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