My Turn: Work together to lower Alaska's high fuel costs

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2006

Oil at $65 a barrel with forecasts suggesting up to $70 a barrel to come; villages paying up to and over $4 a gallon for gas; heating fuel costs range from $3.50 and up per gallon; schools including Anchorage and Fairbanks under-budgeted for fuel; electricity costs in many rural communities ranging from 20 cents to 75 cents per kilowatt hour; villages closing down their municipalities; and electrical costs rising in Anchorage. The list goes on.

In 2005, Gov. Murkowski appointed a Rural Energy Action Council to advise him on how to address the high cost of energy in rural and remote Alaska. The group proposed legislation to alleviate some of the immediate costs through power cost equalization, bulk fuel storage, fuel cooperatives and conservation measures; separate electricity and fuel from school foundation formula so that these costs don't take money from our classrooms; and look toward finding the next generation of low-cost, reliable, long-term energy for our state. I am pleased to say that Gov. Murkowski followed up on most of these requests.

In addition the governor is looking at the future for oil and gas reserves, coal, alternative energy systems such as wind and geothermal energy as well as nuclear power as alternatives to high cost diesel.

Alaska can become the leader of the nation to forge an energy policy, not just policy, but action to bring down costs, if we all work together. The legislators and gubernatorial candidates need to start their lists of wants with: Lower the cost of energy for all of our people.

We have individuals putting out their names as candidates for governor. These are good people who have some great ideas of how to develop our economy, create new jobs and strengthen our education system from kindergarten through college. The campaigns have begun, but no one is saying anything about our high cost of energy. Do we have a group of "emperors with no clothes?"

Maybe each of these individuals need to get out of the cities and walk the streets of our villages in minus-20 temps, or feel the north wind blow with zero degrees or haul the $300 barrel of heating oil across the tundra. Maybe they need to stay in a remote or rural village for a month to pay our prices for fuel, electricity, food and clothing. This experience would make it clear that something more than saying bad things about each other would be better spent trying to energize Alaska so that we all can enjoy our natural renewable resources for our maximum benefit.

I plead with our governor, candidates for governor, Native leaders, legislators, leaders of municipalities around the state and businesses to "energize Alaska." Let us work together to bring down the costs of fuel and electricity for our citizenry so that we can move ahead to utilize our resources, take care of our land and provide a climate in which our greatest resource, our people, can live and work productively.

• Dillingham resident Nels Anderson Jr. is a former state senator, House majority leader and lifelong resident of Bristol Bay, and author of the PCE program.

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