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Alaska Legislature

Juneau wrap-up, part 5: Lawmakers pass energy-efficiency loan legislation

The Alaska Legislature passed dozens of bills in its final week in Juneau — including more than 20 on its last day alone.

The barrage of votes ran for more than 10 hours in both the House and Senate, making it difficult to keep track.

Now that the dust has settled on the session, we're looking back at some of the last-minute legislation you may have missed. Over the course of the week, we're examining bills that could affect Alaskans' day-to-day lives — where they smoke and drink, when they go to the doctor and how they pay for clean-energy upgrades like solar panels.

Solar panels sit on the roof of a Spenard building. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News/File)

Lawmakers, on the last day of the session, passed legislation designed to make it easier for Alaskans to borrow money to pay for pricy energy upgrades and efficiency measures at their homes.

House Bill 374, sponsored by Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool, allows utilities to enter what are called "on-bill financing agreements" with customers. The agreements let customers borrow money to buy renewable energy systems or energy efficiency devices, then pay back the cash as part of their monthly utility bills.

The idea is that the upgrades can be effective enough to lower customers' bills for heat or electricity, even after factoring in the monthly cost of repaying the loans.

His legislation is aimed primarily at helping people in Fairbanks convert their heating systems from oil to natural gas, which has long been a priority for residents of that area. That cost can reach $10,000, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

But the legislation could also be used for other kinds of energy projects, like putting up solar panels or buying a more efficient wood stove, according to Wool.

Officials at two Anchorage-area utilities said they were already able to offer the agreements, even before the legislation passed. Matanuska Electric Association had a similar on-bill financing program years ago but canceled it for several reasons, one of which was that it "could not be as efficient nor offer as favorable terms as the local lending institutions," spokeswoman Julie Estey said.

Wool pointed out that his bill includes consumer protections like restrictions on utilities' charges, and on the actions utilities can take if customers fail to pay their bills.

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