Coal, oil and natural gas remain Alaska’s top electrical energy sources, with hydroelectric producing only about 17 percent of the state’s power, despite its dominance in Southeast.
A new report released Monday by the Alaska Energy Authority found hydrocarbons providing most of the state’s electric power generation, with natural gas providing the biggest share at 61 percent, oil at 16 percent and coal at 6 percent.
In some places, however, especially in Southeast, new forms of energy including wood biomass and ground-source heat pumps were also coming online, according to the report by the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research for the authority.
The report showed dramatic changes in use of energy over several decades, including on a per capita basis.
Jet fuel use soared with the use of Anchorage International Airport for long-distance passenger and cargo flights, as did use of natural gas after discovery of local sources in the Cook Inlet area.
“Per capita consumption of diesel and gasoline was also up sharply — but use of electricity actually declined, possibly reflecting increased energy efficiency,” the report said.
In Western and Interior Alaska, wind power is a growing source of electricity in communities now fueled largely with diesel.
The study found those communities with access to hydroelectric power had the lowest electrical rates in the state, averaging about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2008, followed by 15 cents per kWh in Anchorage and between 50 cents and a dollar per kWh in rural, diesel-powered communities.
Alaska’s fuel consumption was dominated by the aviation industry, using 44 million barrels of jet fuel, compared to 7 million barrels of distillate, which could be heating oil or diesel fuel, and 7 million barrels of motor gasoline.
The AEA study also looked at some regional costs for fuel, and found that Anchorage had lost the cheaper auto gasoline that it once had, and in 2010 was tied with Juneau for lowest prices in the state at just more than $3 a gallon. However, Anchorage might have regained its spot atop Alaska’s cheap gas rankings since the conclusion of the AEA study. On Wednesday, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Anchorage was about $4.20, according to the American Automobile Association’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That gallon of gas would cost $4.23 in Fairbanks and about $4.28 in Juneau.
While most of Alaska’s gasoline was produced at in-state refineries, Southeast’s gasoline may have arrived by barge from down south.
Heating oil, too, which was once cheaper in Anchorage, in 2010 cost the same in Anchorage and Juneau, but was much less expensive there than elsewhere in the state.
In Southeast, where natural gas is unavailable, 70 percent of the homes are heated with fuel oil, the highest percentage in the state. But with electricity cheap and temperatures lower, 16 percent of homes are heated with electricity, compared to 10 percent elsewhere.
Southeast also has some unusual and innovative energy sources available as well. In Craig and Klukwan, community electrical generation was done with wood, a method of power production which had only a small share of the overall power production business.
In Juneau, Sealaska has begun heating its corporate headquarters with wood pellets as well.
Juneau also has three buildings heated with ground-source heat pumps. That method of heating has had difficulty catching on in places such as Alaska where lower ground temperatures make them less efficient, but that may be changing.
“Several designs developed for cooler northern climes are now on the market and combined with higher expected fuel costs this technology may be becoming more viable for the Alaska market,” the AEA report stated.
In Juneau, the Alaska Electric Light & Power Lemon Creek Operations Center has long used the technology, and recently Juneau International Airport and the Dimond Park Aquatic Center — which opens to the general public today at 4 p.m. — have installed the technology as well.
The report and highly detailed accompanying data can be viewed at www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.