OPINION: Alaska has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unlock its energy potential

For decades, Alaskans have wished for more reliable, affordable and locally generated energy. The high cost of energy and our limited control over it has hampered our households and communities, making everything from subsistence activities to attracting businesses more difficult in our state.

It has been exciting to see our governor’s emphasis on affordable clean energy and innovation, as well as the leadership at state agencies like Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) to pursue federal funds by bringing historic alignment amongst the Railbelt utilities. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $206 million grant to AEA to strengthen and modernize Alaska’s Railbelt power grid — a testament to the power of this kind of coordinated effort and a critical step toward unlocking Alaska’s vast renewable energy resources. This monumental investment, secured through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), represents only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the extraordinary federal funding opportunities currently available for clean energy projects: funding that could bring low-cost, reliable energy to our homes and businesses, and drive a new era of jobs, growth and opportunity for Alaskans.

There is a time-limited window in which to secure this funding. Many of the programs created by the BIL and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) expire within 5-10 years. We must work together to seize this moment.

Quick action on big projects is never easy: it requires a bold vision, shared commitment, and a clear plan. To ensure we don’t miss this opportunity, we are asking Alaskans to support and encourage our state, local, tribal, and federal leadership to work together toward these principles and goals:

1. Modernize our Railbelt electric grid by 2030

We need to upgrade our outdated Railbelt electric transmission infrastructure to deliver affordable and reliable energy for our homes and businesses. Energy cost savings will be shared with rural and remote communities through the Power Cost Equalization program.

2. Assert control over the price of local energy


We must reduce Alaska’s exposure to the volatility of global energy markets. By developing locally generated clean power, we increase our energy security and our autonomy over the pricing dynamics of our energy resources.

3. Leverage federal incentives for clean energy projects

Federal incentives enable Alaska to pursue new clean power generation projects for as little as 20% of the actual cost. That’s effectively a limited-time 80% discount on energy generation projects that will stimulate new business, jobs and economic activity throughout Alaska.

4. Prioritize projects that can be built now

The depletion of natural gas reserves in Cook Inlet necessitates swift and pragmatic action. Instead of debating megaprojects, our focus should be on developing known, low-risk projects that can be built within the next five years.

5. Strategic allocation of state resources for clean energy investments

Maximizing Alaska’s share of federal funds for clean energy will require state investment and match funding. Now is the time for the state to commit to a comprehensive package of clean energy investments that will create a sustainable in-state energy system at a fraction of the cost of other solutions.

6. Secure Alaska’s position as an energy leader

In a world increasingly shifting to clean energy, our ability to keep our families here in Alaska and to build and attract business depends on diversifying our energy offerings. By pursuing innovative utility-scale and export-scale renewable energy projects and carbon management technologies, we will not only create new jobs and stimulate growth, we will create the durable economic opportunities our families and communities need to thrive over the long term.

In today’s social media-driven politics, it is always easy to criticize efforts as inadequate or policy development as too ponderous or to ascribe political motivations or find opportunities to vilify others. But we must not let a cynical view stymie our future. Given the time-limited opportunities our delegation worked to create, now is the time to unite to diversify and modernize Alaska’s energy base. Together, we can build on our legacy of energy leadership and ingenuity to create new wealth, new jobs and new momentum for the next generation of Alaskans.

The opportunity is ripe. It is time for new energy, Alaska — for our state and our future. Talk to your friends and neighbors, reach out to civic leaders, add your voice: The time is now to forge a path toward a future defined by sustainable, home-grown energy solutions.

Lesil McGuire, Charisse Millett, John Coghill and Sen. Bill Wielechowski are part of New Energy Alaska, a coalition of Alaskans working to bring new infrastructure, energy security and clean, affordable power to all Alaskans.

Lesil McGuire is a former Alaska state senator and former co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee.

Charisse Millett is a former member of the Alaska House of Representatives and former chair of the House Energy Special Committee.

John Coghill is a former Alaska state senator. He was Senate Majority Leader from 2013 to 2016.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski is an Alaska state senator representing East Anchorage. He is a former co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee.

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