OPINION: Clean energy is critical to helping solve Alaska’s natural gas crisis

On June 8, the ADN editorial board called on the Alaska Legislature to act now on the looming gas shortage, identifying royalty relief as one option to address the immediate concern of energy prices. The editorial board is right that Alaska policy is too often based on wishful thinking — that’s what got us into this gas crisis in the first place. But it is similarly short-sighted to overvalue extractive, dirty, polluting energy, and undervalue the benefits renewables can offer.

As Erin McKittrick pointed out in her June 13 letter, energy supply is primarily the responsibility of the utility providers in Alaska, not the Legislature. At the utility level, we need to diversify the energy supply to delay the need for imported gas, and reduce the total amount needed. Our largest electrical supplier in the state, Chugach Electric Association (CEA), has been planning for the future.

The editorial board also claimed that “we will be paying up to twice as much to heat and power our homes and businesses in the next five years.” When CEA studied the impact to ratepayers of increased costs from importing natural gas, it found a 10-15% hike in electric prices, not a 50% increase. Community solar, a program that has resulted in an average decrease of 10% on subscriber energy bills, passed the Alaska Legislature this year. This, in addition to the creation of a Green Bank which also passed the Legislature, will increase the amount of private investment in renewable energy beyond just large-scale utility projects. The lowest-cost overall energy mix for the railbelt, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, would be about 76% renewable generation by 2040. As substantially more renewable generation gets online, short-term increases will be offset by long-term decreases in cost.

At the state level, we need innovative and independent leaders who are prepared to adapt to the circumstances as new information arises. We are grateful to the leaders who passed community solar this session and invested in our ability to transmit energy back and forth along the railbelt efficiently. However, subsidizing extraction is not innovative - it is more of the same tactic that we have seen in Alaska for decades, prioritizing corporate profit margins over Alaskan families. Further, it is far from guaranteed that subsidizing exploration at this point would result in more gas production before renewables come online. The process of gas exploration to production can take several years to complete. It is a much better use of time for our elected officials to focus on supporting new, clean energy generation, rather than wasting state funding by propping up outdated industries.

As the June 8 piece said, “Alaskans can’t afford any more time wasted.” We agree. It is critical that we do not waste time or funding investing in an energy source that is being phased out as we move toward a future where all of our energy generation comes from low-cost, unlimited, renewable sources.

Chantal de Alcuaz is co-executive director of The Alaska Center.

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