The Alaska Legislature passed two bills critical to securing Alaska's energy future, and neither had anything to do with the natural gas pipeline. I believe that 10 years from now, the 2010 Legislative Session will be remembered not for the $3 billion capital budget or the rollback on cruise ship tax but for the year they passed the Alaska Sustainable Energy Act (SB 220) and the State Energy Policy (HB 306). These two measures will have far-reaching consequences for all of Alaska's communities, while at the same time establishing Alaska as a leader in the global market for clean energy.
"I'm thrilled that the Legislature came together to pass such substantial and important energy legislation," said Sen. Bill Wielechowski D-Anchorage, co-chair of the Resources Committee. "It lays the foundation for Alaska to become a global leader in renewable energy and energy efficiency, and tasks the state with leading by example."
Senate Bill 220 establishes a revolving, low-interest loan program to fund energy efficiency improvements in public buildings all over the state and mandates energy efficiency retrofits in 25% of the largest public buildings by 2020, two measures that together will reap huge energy savings. The bill also creates an Emerging Energy Technology Fund to promote research on promising energy technology, such as tidal energy, fostering high-tech jobs and spurring investment in our energy economy.
SB 220 also expands the purpose of the Southeast Energy Fund allowing communities to take more advantage of our enormous hydropower. "Energy is the keystone of our economy and SB 220 will drive innovation and high-tech investment in Alaska," said Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee.
On the House side of the Legislature, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Charisse Millet, R-Anchorage, sponsored and secured passage of HB 306, which creates an overall state energy policy, including a goal for Alaska to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Alaska currently receives about 24 percent of its electricity from renewable resources, mostly from hydropower. Setting this goal sets Alaska apart from other states as a true leader in clean energy. Furthermore, Alaska is walking the talk by putting another $50 million in the Renewable Energy Grant Fund.
The budget also contains more than $40 million in additional funding for various energy efficiency and renewable energy projects and initiatives across the state, including $10 million to study hydropower projects in Southcentral and $15 million to expand Sitka's Blue Lake hydropower project.
"The Legislature has really helped Alaska make some significant strides forward that will keep us competitive in an increasingly competitive world. I hope the public understands how hard they worked this session to secure our energy future," said Chris Rose, executive director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), a consortium of organizations and utilities promoting renewable energy.
I understand that effort and would like to commend the Alaska Legislature and organizations like REAP for all their foresight and commitment to put Alaska on a secure, sustainable energy path.
Kate Troll is a longtime Alaskan who has more than 18 years of experience in fisheries and coastal management policy and has been working the past four years on climate and energy matters. Her column will appear twice a month.