Alaska News

Renewable energy projects are blooming across Alaska

Energy talk in Alaska is centered on whether we have a large-diameter or bullet-line-type natural gas pipeline, or the potential of the Watana hydroelectric generation facility on the Susitna River. This focus makes it easy to overlook the need for energy generation all over Alaska.

Also overlooked are the efforts of the Alaska Legislature to meet those needs with more than just energy assistance -- but with large dollar investments in clean renewable energy. Through the continued funding of the Renewable Energy Fund, the Legislature has made a commitment to reducing the energy costs to residents all over Alaska, some of whom are paying the highest prices per kilowatt in the entire country.

According to the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, or REAP, 2011 marks the third Renewable Energy Fund construction season. Twelve projects across Alaska are completed and 14 additional projects are scheduled for completion this year. For the first $150 million appropriated in rounds I, II and III, 124 grants to successful applicants are in place.

Successful projects such as Pillar Mountain in Kodiak and the Falls Creek hydroelectric plant in Gustavus point to a future in rural Alaska with lower energy costs that are sustainable in the long term. To date, the Legislature has put its money where its mouth is by continuing to use the Renewable Energy Fund to assure investment and completion of energy projects that have the potential to add to Alaska's growing portfolio of clean energy generation.

Let's look at some projects and numbers:

• In Anchorage, our landfill is a viable energy source yielding more than 1,000 cubic feet of combustible gas per minute. An initial grant of $2 million from the Renewable Energy Fund to the Municipality of Anchorage set the stage for a 20-year agreement with Doyon LLC to recover the methane from the landfill and fuel a power plant on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, returning $1.3 million to $1.5 million to the city annually.

• The Matanuska Valley is working on a hydroelectric project at Fishhook Creek, Nikiski is developing wind energy and the Alaska SeaLife Center is prototyping a seawater heat pump system.

• Around the state, we have 66 projects in the pre-construction phase and 58 projects in construction or completed. These projects are developing renewable energy through biomass, geothermal, hydro, ocean/river flow and solar systems and efficiency in heat recovery and transmission. Alaska has great potential and creative people working to meet our 50 percent renewable energy goal.

The Renewable Energy Fund has also enabled businesses to be active within the state. Communities, utilities and nonprofit organizations are hiring local engineering firms to design foundations and develop cost-effective approaches for these new renewable systems. Experts are traveling to remote villages and helping local people construct and operate these systems. Cargo companies are transporting materials to the projects. And programs are in place to ensure residents are trained to operate the new systems.

Simply put, not only is renewable energy offering an exciting future in Alaska, it is also good business for Alaska.

While the Renewable Energy Fund works on Round IV, it is important to monitor the state's investment. The Legislature must remain vigilant, as granting money without strong oversight, review or audit can sometimes be more harmful than investing none at all.

This approach, coupled with the Legislature's commitment to energy efficiency through grants to AHFC and its highly successful weatherization program, shows that we are actively leading in the area of Alaska's energy future.

As a member of the Legislature, I am proud of our accomplishments. There is much more to do and we must not lose sight of our declining oil production numbers. Without abundant oil production and oil revenue, these projects would not be possible.

Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, is majority leader of the state Senate.