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Alaska editorial: Solutions needed for high energy costs

Posted: January 24, 2012 - 1:01am

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

As Interior Alaskans watch their fuel tanks drain and their wood stacks shrink in the cold, it’s good to see local legislators headed to Juneau are putting a priority on reducing energy costs.

The cost of heating in this area is oppressive, and it’s never more noticeable than during cold spells such as the one that has kept Fairbanks well below zero for most of the month.

January always is chilly, but the amount of energy required to heat a home — as reflected by the heating degree index — has been running almost 50 percent more than normal for this time of year.

The daily heating degrees figure represents the difference between the day’s average outside temperature and the normal temperature inside a home. Jan. 14 had 108 heating degrees, almost 50 percent more than the normal 74 for that date.

Fortunately, the current temperatures do not reflect the total season. In fact, the heating degree days accumulated since July 1 of last year were almost exactly normal as of Jan. 14: The normal number is 7,292, while the total as of Jan. 14 was 7,251. The warm fall months and a warm December have made up for the winter’s two cold events: the record-setting deep freeze in mid-November and the current stretch of well below average temperatures.

So we can all grouse about the cost of the cold, but the only exacerbating factor this winter so far has been the price of fuel. It chews up much of the margin people here used to enjoy when comparing their incomes to their expenses.

Legislators are correct when they observe that short-term solutions are hard to find, outside direct cash or subsidies from the state. But they have put forward some ideas that could encourage the delivery and distribution of natural gas, as well as its use to generate electricity, which also has been rising in price because of the cost of fuel.

We hope legislators keep working on these ideas, and more. The cold has us all wishing for solutions.

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