Palin releases energy 'plan'

Governor wants half of state on alternative fuels by 2025

Posted: Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin Friday rolled out her new statewide energy plan aimed at bringing affordable energy to all Alaskans.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

She's calling for an ambitious statewide goal of producing half of Alaska's electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

At a press conference at the headquarters of the Alaska Energy Authority in Anchorage, Palin and her top energy advisors introduced the plan.

"This is huge, it should be greatly appreciated by all Alaskans," she said.

It won quick praise from environmental groups for its call for shifting from fossil fuels to renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, tidal and geothermal, but Palin and energy advisor Steven Haagenson also revealed that the plan isn't actually a plan for action. Instead, it is a list of resources on which local communities may use to develop their own solutions.

The plan was drafted by Haagenson, Palin's energy coordinator, and also the executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority.

The 245-page document is called "Alaska Energy: A first step toward energy independence." A complete database of community resources brings it to more than 1,000 pages, Haagenson said.

Palin said that high quality energy plans that have been developed in the past weren't put into use, but instead gathered dust on some bureaucrat's shelf.

Haagenson acknowledged that was a different approach, but said they actually "avoided" developing a plan, and instead tried to develop something that would work.

The plan identifies resources available in and near communities throughout Alaska, and helps to find ways to make use of them.

Renewable sources will play a large role in helping Alaska meet its future energy needs, she said.

"It's time to move our rural communities off of expensive diesel whenever we can," she said.

While the plan doesn't provide a road map for getting to its stated goal of half the state's power coming from renewable sources, it identifies numerous areas in which the state could develop alternative energy.

Many of those projects should be developed in the near future, Palin said.

"In the short term we need to take advantage of the low-hanging fruit that is available to us now," she said.

What Palin said state government would do is help local communities implement their parts of the plan.

"We are going to put in place the legal and government structures to actually deliver it," she said.

Most of the cost would have to be borne by local ratepayers, she said, but the government may be able to provide some help with loans and grants.

The ambitious goal was praised by environmentalists who have long been urging more development of renewable resources. It's a "very forward-thinking energy plan," said Kate Troll, executive director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance.

Last year, soaring oil prices brought renewed focus on renewable resources in the Legislature, but those prices have since fallen by more than $110 a barrel.

Some legislators, including Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, have called for Palin to propose spending cuts in response. Hawker, who will be a co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee in the next Legislature, has not said where he'd like to see the cuts made.

Palin urged the Legislature to not cut the $100 million fund for renewable energy projects the Legislature authorized, which has not yet been spent.

"We ask the Legislature to stand by its commitment to the renewable energy fund," she said.

Friday, Haagenson released the list of 77 projects his agency has selected to develop with the $100 million.

Two Juneau projects are among the several Southeast projects on the list. Ground source heat pumps at the future Dimond Park Aquatic Center and the airport are both recommended for funding.

Elsewhere, an intertie that would bring hydro power to Kake, a biomass gasification plant in Yakutat, a hydroelectric facility in Gustavus and a centralized wood-heat system in Haines are among those also proposed for funding.

Approval of those projects depends on authorization by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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