Alaskans want to live and work where energy is reliable and affordable. That is why we crafted the Alaska Sustainable Energy Act, which passed unanimously on the last day of the legislative session. This bipartisan legislation will pave the way for lower energy costs, greater energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy in Alaska. It will help Alaska families, businesses, schools and communities cut their costs and find more sustainable ways of meeting their energy needs.
The act includes a broad range of policy tools designed to stimulate the economy and improve Alaskans' standard of living. They include:
• A new energy efficiency revolving loan fund: School districts, municipalities, state agencies and the University of Alaska will have access to low-interest loans to upgrade their facilities. Based on observations of the state's Weatherization and Home Energy Rebate programs, this fund will likely foster 1,500 to 2,000 jobs in the construction industry in Alaska. It will also save millions of dollars annually in heating and lighting costs around the state.
• Help for Alaska families when fuel prices soar: The act links benefits from the state's Heating Assistance Program to the price of oil, providing additional assistance to families when fuel prices are high, Alaskans need help the most, and the state enjoys a significant surplus. This program is a supplement to the federal Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, which benefits families in every Alaska community.
• Loans for Alaska businesses: The act revitalizes a dormant alternative energy loan fund within the Department of Commerce and Economic Development. The new program will provide loans of up to $50,000 to businesses for energy efficiency and alternative energy upgrades, enabling them to become more profitable and competitive.
• Educating Alaskans on low-cost ways to save energy: The act provides new authority to the Alaska Energy Authority to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency and alternative energy through training and public education. The state plans to kick off a public education campaign in the coming year with the goal of helping Alaskans cut their energy bills by taking simple, affordable steps, such as caulking windows and weatherstripping doors.
• Emerging energy technology fund: With the high cost of energy in many of our communities, Alaska provides a unique opportunity for innovation. The Alaska Sustainable Energy Act creates a fund that will provide grants for testing energy technologies in Alaska. This fund will foster innovation and enable Alaskans to develop solutions to our energy challenges, creating high-tech jobs and spurring investment in our economy.
• Coordinating and consolidating state energy programs: The act tasks the governor with evaluating how best to coordinate the state's energy departments and programs in order to avoid duplication and make it easier for the public to access state services, such as weatherization and heating assistance. The governor is directed to provide recommendations to the Legislature by January 2011.
• Leading by example: The act requires the state to retrofit at least 25 percent of the largest state buildings by 2020 to reduce energy costs. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has already begun to upgrade those buildings most in need. While annual saving for the first eight buildings was expected to be $278,000 a year, savings have averaged $497,000, making this new requirement a significant money-saver for the state. By retrofitting additional buildings, an estimated $2.5 million could be saved each year, money better spent on meeting critical needs.
Energy is the keystone of our economy and the foundation of our modern life. We were pleased that Democrats and Republicans alike from both the House and the Senate came together this session to pass such substantial legislation. Alaskans contend with some of the highest energy costs in the nation. The Alaska Sustainable Energy Act will help ease that burden and move us toward greater energy independence and sustainability.
Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Lesil McGuire are co-chairs of the state Senate Resources Committee.
By SENS. LESIL McGUIRE and BILL WIELECHOWSKI