My turn: Alaska has potential to become a global leader in clean energy

Market-based incentives could boost renewable energy production

Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Alaskans know that there are a number of efforts throughout the state to alleviate the ongoing energy crisis that is devastating much of rural Alaska. Expensive and unreliable energy sources have raised a number of issues ranging from conversations about subsidized fuel, rural-urban migration, sustainability and social impact.

Alaska holds an unparalleled wealth of renewable energy, with incredible reserves of wind, geothermal, tidal, wave, biomass and other sources of clean energy. These local resources are compatible with the subsistence way of life, and the development of these renewable energy sources is an important part of the long-term resolution of the village energy crisis. We know that by diversifying Alaska's energy options we leave our youth and future generations better equipped for future challenges.

In January, the potential for renewable energy generation in various regions throughout the state was detailed in an Alaska Energy Authorities repor, "Alaska Energy: A first step towards energy independence." The report demonstrates the vast wealth of renewable energy waiting to be employed. The state has taken an assertive position on setting strong energy goals. By 2025, Alaska could be producing 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

In February, a resolution titled "Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency for Rural Alaska" began reaching Alaska Native Tribal and corporate offices all over the state. With the resolution, Alaska Natives are calling on Congress to immediately enact a policy to establish a national renewable electricity standard.

In addition to grants and tax incentives, Alaska villages can greatly benefit from the establishment of a nationwide renewable energy system (RES). Implementation would be a win-win situation for rural Alaska because this type of standard requires large Outside utilities to generate a certain percentage, say 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, biomass, landfill gas, ocean, tidal, incremental hydropower and geothermal by a given date, or purchase renewable energy credits to achieve this standard.

Because of the large size threshold and the proposed exemptions for electrical co-ops and local government operated utilities, rural utilities would be exempt from the requirement to meet this standard. However, Alaska's renewable energy developers could benefit greatly from selling credits to Outside utilities that are required to comply with the standard. Current RES language states that renewable energy generated on Native corporation lands and allotments are to receive double credits.

By March, more than 60 Alaska Native villages and organizations representing 90 communities officially adopted a resolution supporting more renewable energy in Alaska, including a national RES. The package of combined resolutions was timely presented to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich in Washington, D.C., before a key vote on energy legislation was conducted.

This effort, largely seen as combating both Alaska's dependence on foreign oil and climate change, asks our elected officials to work toward building a plan that will make Alaska a leader in renewable energy development. This means moving beyond the barrier labels of pro-conservation or pro-development getting in the way of smart development. Sharing information with rural communities about critical policies that aim to increase the demand and dollars for renewable energy production is expected to generate more action on the local end.

A recent statewide poll revealed that 93 percent of Alaskans support having more renewable energy development in the state. Of the respondents who answered yes or no, 76.5 percent supported requiring large utilities to provide an increased amount of renewable energy. (Hayes Research Group)

Alaska has the ability to become a global leader in the renewable energy realm and rural Alaska can play a key role in producing local, clean and inexhaustible renewable energy. Congress needs to implement a long-term energy plan to ensure that renewable energy development will continue, even when the economy slows.

• Andrea Sanders is working as an Alaska Renewable Energy Organizer for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Anchorage.

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