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Governor backs off renewable energy support

Legislature continues push to finish state's proposed projects

Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gov. Sarah Palin has trimmed back her support for renewable energy in the face of declining oil revenues, but the Legislature is still pushing forward with last year's proposed projects.

Palin last week submitted a revised budget for next year, cutting back a proposed $50 million in renewable projects to $25 million. That comes just a month after she'd called on the state to make an aggressive push for renewables that would bring the state to getting half its power from renewables by 2025

Palin budget director Karen Rehfeld said the governor was still committed to renewable energy, but with next year's budget likely to have a significant deficit at estimated oil prices, it wasn't a good idea to take money out of savings for new spending now.

"We want to do everything we can to extend the life of our savings," she said.

Still, recommending $25 million in the budget means the state won't be entirely abandoning the renewables push the state began with gusto last year.

"With the $25 million proposed, which the Legislature will have to approve, that will allow the effort to continue," Rehfeld said.

In the Legislature, however, there are differences of opinion on spending for renewables.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, represents a region suffering from high energy projects and has cautioned against decreasing support just because fuel prices in cities are down now.

He has an ally in some urban lawmakers, including Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.

"I want to see renewable energy throughout Alaska," she said. "I think it is the way out of our continuing energy crisis."

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, supported Palin's action.

Last year the Legislature created the Renewable Energy Fund, and started it off with $50 million. During the summer, as energy prices in rural communities rose while oil revenues flowed into the state treasury, the Legislature added another $50 million.

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee just last week just gave final approval to spend $94.8 million on 77 projects around the state. Doogan, a member of that committee, voted against the approval, which passed 8-2.

Doogan said he wasn't opposed to renewables, but questioned whether those were the best projects in the state and whether state officials would be able to adequately monitor even those projects, without adding more this year.

"They've got plenty to do without giving them another $50 million worth of projects next year," he said.

It was just last month that Palin publicly offered continued support for building more renewable energy projects.

"While lower crude oil prices are reducing the costs of energy today, we must remain committed to achieving energy security for our future well-being," she said, while announcing the state's new energy plan and the 50 percent renewables goal.

During U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's visit to Juneau last week, the potential Palin rival said she remained committed to renewables.

"The leader that we have been in this nation as a supplier of energy for 30 years, we've got to be that same leader when it comes to renewables," she said.

She suggested in her address to the Alaska Legislature that Juneau should even find source of renewable energy to use as its emergency backup when its hydroelectric power isn't available.

"For crying out loud, in the capital of our state, the power goes down and turn on the diesel generators," she said. "We've got to be doing better."

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



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