Alaska News

Legislature has put big money into renewable energy

There has been a lot of talk about renewable energy. Where to make it, how to make it, and who is better at making it. There is good talk - talk about the potential for renewable energy generation in Alaska. There is also bad talk - talk about how Alaska is missing the boat and needs to do more before we become a desert land mass, waterless and without wildlife. As recently as April 28, 2009 the Anchorage Daily News wrote "The Legislature has a chance to pass some good renewable energy initiatives next year." The fact of the matter is that the State Legislature has led the way in the arena of renewable energy, and more importantly, unlike other states, has put money behind its words.

Last year, the Legislature committed $100 million to projects that would produce energy from renewable sources in areas statewide to combat this disparity of energy costs. These projects were put through a vetting process during the interim by the Alaska Energy Authority. With the assistance of the Advisory Committee led by Sen. Lyman Hoffman and Rep. Bill Thomas, 77 projects were recommended to be funded out of the Renewable Energy Fund. During our recent legislative session, the Legislative Budget & Audit (LB&A) Committee vetted and tested the projects again. And in February LB&A approved them for funding. These projects will begin this summer with periodic updates and progress status to the LB&A Committee from the Energy Coordinator.

Renewable energy is energy generated from natural resources-such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat-which are renewable (naturally replenished). In Alaska renewable technologies are best suited to small off-grid applications. This may mean in rural and remote areas where energy is often crucial for communities. Experts say that Alaska probably has the country's best geothermal, wind, tidal and ocean wave resources. Alaska has more than half the country's ocean wave energy resources and more than 90 percent of its river current and tidal resources. But many of these energy sources are hard to tap effectively because they are far from population centers. Still, energy costs in many Alaskan villages are high, providing long-term incentives to switch. All of these sources have potential to reduce the cost and impact of energy production in Alaska.

The project funds the legislature approved last session went to some very exciting projects across the state: wind farm construction on St. George Island, three wind projects in Nome, the Lake Elva hydroelectric project, construction of the Cordova heat recovery plant, the Pillar Mountain wind farm project in Kodiak, the Bethel wind power project, the Upper Kobuk hydroelectric project, Anchorage landfill gas electricity project, a biomass electricity/heat project in North Pole, an intertie between Coffman Cove and Naukati, the Whitman Lake hydroelectric project, and a wood heating project in Tok among many others.

The Legislature is taking that leadership role - having pledged $300 million over five years in renewable energy grants to utilities, independent power producers or local governments. The first $100 million is already working and this last legislative session another $25 million was added to the Renewable Energy Fund. Even though we limited our spending in the capital budget - renewable energy projects remain a priority.

Furthermore, beginning last year, the legislature continues to fund energy efficiency programs through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and it has been a huge success - over $350 million was appropriated to the Weatherization and Home Energy Rebate programs. This is perhaps our best and most effective energy program because it promotes energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the quickest way to reduce energy consumption and ease the demand on generation.

In short, the Legislature has been working hard to do more than just talk about a vision of renewable energy production in the state. My colleagues and I are committed to provide the leadership necessary to make renewable energy and energy efficiency a reality for all Alaskans.

Senator Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) is chairman of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.