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Southeast, rural energy issues considered by Legislature

Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010

Millions in funding for rural and Southeast energy projects was discussed Thursday by the Legislature, among them in conjunction with Southcentral and Railbelt projects that could cost billions.

Co-chairs of the Senate Resources Committtee presented their budget recommendations to the public, and pledged continued support for Power Coast Equalization (PCE) for rural, diesel-dependent villages, along with Southeast hydroelectric and intertie projects.

"We believe this is a package which will create a dialogue," said Sen. Bill Wielechowksi, D-Anchorage, who developed with recommendations with co-chair Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage.

While the state's most populated areas are facing big decisions such as building pipelines to bring more natural gas to Anchorage or developing the Susitna Hydro Project or other renewable resources, the co-chairs promised that rural Alaska would not be forgotten.

They proposed new efforts at conservation, including proposing an additional $25 million for weatherization.

McGuire and Wielechowski also questioned why the state had spent so much money on PCE over the years without trying instead to solve the problems.

"PCE is a bit broken, there is not currently ... any incentive to conserve energy, which we think is flawed," she said.

"Throwing money at PCE, into the millions over the years, has cost us a little bit," she said. "Investment in infrastructure itself might have been better earlier on."

The co-chairs said they remained committed to PCE,however.

"The money we spent on PCE we needed to spend on PCE," Wielechowski said.

"What they got, they deserved, but we need to find ways to reduce costs for rural Alaskans," he said.

"Rural Alaska pays exorbitant cost for energy. Until we can get those renewable sources of energy or lower cost of energy, we are going to fully fund PCE," McGuire agreed.

McGuire said they supported Gov. Parnell's budget proposal for $700,000 to develop an integrated resource plan for Southeast.

They recommended $10 million for a Southeast energy fund in addition to the governor's budget.

"The hydro system in Southeast is badly in need of upgrades and connections," she said.

Interties requested by Southeast legislators could also work to bring hydro power to communities now powered by diesel.

The Resources committee's recommendations will go to the Senate Finance Committee, co-chaired by Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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