My turn: Reduce fossil fuel dependence

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008

Oil just passed $109 per barrel and is trending higher. While our state coffers balloon with money, Alaska families struggle with high heating fuel and gas prices. Our Southeast Alaska economic growth has stagnated. Worse, our energy costs have created a migration of energy refugees from Kake, Angoon and Hoonah.

North slope oil is decreasing and will run out. The longer we hold to our fossil fuel paradigm, the more our current generation leaves an empty oil can for our children. Intervention is needed now since converting to a renewable energy society takes years.

As the hydrogen economy and economical storage develops, we can transform abundant hydropower energy to produce clean-burning hydrogen that would run and operate our ferry systems and fishing fleets. Unlike other areas of the world that will be enslaved to spiraling oil, we can provide renewable energy to break these chains and provide Southeast Alaskans with energy independence.

Facts to consider: Norway and Iceland's electricity is 99 percent renewable and leading the hydrogen development; British Columbia has a goal of 90 percent renewable and 100 percent carbon neutral by 2016; 28 states have renewable portfolio standards; and California is now considering legislation requiring "carbon dispatch," which uses renewable energy from projects ahead of carbon emitting energy, regardless of price. California is economically hedging against higher fossil fuel prices as the energy price from renewable sources are stable and do not increase over time. Fossil fuel energy has risen 400 percent during the past 10 years.

Alaska could be a renewable energy leader. The fundamental difference between fossil fuel and renewable energy is that renewable energy is clean and lasts forever. It also creates new economics that are cheaper than diesel. We already have common sense solutions, and we live in the Saudi Arabia of hydropower potential. The question is priorities and leadership. Thus, our growing energy woes are often self-inflicted.

Wrangell is leading the renewable energy industry by supporting the Alaska-British Columbia AK-BC Intertie and the Thomas Bay Energy Development, TBED, thus creating good paying jobs and eliminating the need for Southeast Alaska utilities to ever burn expensive diesel fuel. So why are Wrangell's renewable energy initiative monies being stripped by current Legislature and administration budgets?

In the Southeast, the proposed TBED and the AK-BC Intertie would create a renewable energy cornerstone that would provide enough power to remove all Southeast Alaska communities from diesel - forever - saving ratepayers millions of dollars; and the AK-BC Intertie would connect Alaska to the North American grid, allowing all future renewable energy projects to sell their excess electricity 24/7 when local demand cannot use all the energy. This common sense, market-based approach makes Southeast renewable projects economically viable and our communities' energy sustainable and secure.

Here are suggestions which include some actions other states have enacted, that our governor and new energy coordinator Steve Haagenson might want to consider:

• Seek legislative approval of a renewable portfolio standard requiring all utilities to purchase renewable energy as a percentage of their energy portfolio.

• Pass legislation that requires utilities to purchase renewable energy from home owners and private developers. HB 288 is a first step.

• Establish intertie connections to the North American grid to export and import energy.

• Establish cooperative energy agreements and assistance with British Columbia and Yukon Territory for mutual energy benefits and security.

• Quadruple the $250 million endowment of HB 152. Renewable energy investments now provide community energy independence, create green collar jobs and save millions in future Power Cost Equalization.

• Support public and private renewable energy developments.

• Fast track state government regulatory processes that advance renewable energy projects quickly.

• Support the use of tourism head tax receipts to bond and fund the Southeast Intertie including the AK-BC segment, to bring clean renewable energy to each Southeast community.

• Invest 25 percent of the Alaska Permanent Fund Investment portfolio and create the Alaska Permanent Energy Fund, which could only invest in sound Alaska energy projects. This would re-invest Alaska into main street Alaska, not Wall Street, N.Y.

Washington state citizens had to pass their own energy plan by forwarding a ballot initiative.

A change in thinking is needed to replace yesterday's fossil fuel paradigm. A progressive paradigm: "Alaskans First ... Renewable Energy is Forever."Our children are depending on it.

• Duff Mitchell is the business development director for Cascade Creek and the permit holder and developer of the Thomas Bay Energy Development, located near Kake, Petersburg and Wrangell. He lives in Juneau.

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