My turn: The future of energy in Alaska

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2008

Over the years, we Alaskans have benefited from the oil industry in a number of ways. Nevertheless, oil alone is not a sound long-term strategy for Alaska or any other place. Practical and efficient alternative energy technologies exist today and are being used throughout the world.

Spain, for example, is a leader in wind technology and solar technology that includes solar PV panels as well as solar concentrating towers that produce steam that can be stored for energy production even at night.

Iceland has built its economy around geothermal technology and is now one of the world leaders in low cost alternative energy.

Here in Alaska, we are already using hydro power as a core technology, but we also have vast amounts of geothermal energy that can be captured and used. Although not currently commercially feasible, both wave and tidal energy technologies are also being developed.

What is both readily available and highly attractive today, however, and in fact has been in used in many parts of Europe for decades, is the manufacturing and utilization of biomass for heat and electricity. Biomass technology can generate a BTU of energy for about 30 percent less than oil can. It makes waste products safe, efficient, reasonably priced, and readily available fuel in pellet, brick, and log configurations to generate electricity and provide heat for homes and commercial facilities.

Recycled paper, for example, can be pressed into biomass products to generate electricity and to provide products to be burned in home fireplaces and commercial boilers. The same technology can be used to create biomass from wood scraps, old pallets, other scrap wood, grass clippings, and yes, even the sludge that comes from sewage can be pressed into burnable bricks for use in commercial heat production.

Instead of piling it up, burying it, or shipping it out, we can benefit from much of our waste. For example, one wood mill on Prince of Wales Island generates more than 40,000 tons of scrap annually; this material could easily be converted into biomass fuel. In fact, the city of Craig already has an effective biomass steam boiler to produce heat.

Biomass materials are basically carbon neutral and produce much less pollution than the burning of oil. This technology solves other immediate community problems as well, by reducing the volume of materials going into landfills and providing additional capacities required for sewage systems. This approach also helps preserve our renowned landscapes for ourselves and visitors to enjoy.

All of these alternatives and more for producing energy for Alaskans are either available today or are being developed. Oil will not last forever, and if we Alaskans are going to have a comfortable, viable long-term future, we must actively support our alternative energy projects. Let us strongly support House Bill 152, which would begin to fund these energy sources that are so critical to our well-being.

• Greg R. Brown is a Juneau resident.

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