Palin urged to accept federal energy money

Posted: Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sens. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who head the Senate Resources Committee, on Monday urged Palin to accept money to address needs in a state with some of the highest energy costs in the nation.

Palin last week announced she would forfeit $28.6 million in State Energy Program stimulus funds that could be spent on reducing energy consumption and costs. The money could be used for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Wielechowski and McGuire said the money could save millions for homeowners and businesses.

"It makes no sense to turn these funds away when they will just be given to other states," Wielechowski said in a statement released with McGuire. "Alaskans need this money far more than residents of many other states with milder climates and substantially lower energy costs. People around the state are hurting and this money could help."

Palin last week said she would not accept the money because it was tied to adopting a statewide energy code. She said Alaska's vast expanse and differing conditions were not conducive to a federally mandated, universal energy code.

"In this case, one size does not fit all," she said. "Local governments and many unincorporated communities have very different needs and abilities to implement or enforce a statewide mandate."

Palin said government can help with energy challenges.

"However, mandating universal energy building codes throughout our state is not in Alaskans' common or individual interests," she said.

Wielechowski and McGuire said Alaska would have eight years to meet the energy efficiency standards by adopting an energy code. Both senators have introduced legislation creating a statewide energy code that would apply to both rural and urban areas, without growing government, they said.

"With eight years, we have time to do this right and meet the energy needs of Alaskans while maintaining our Alaskan way of life," McGuire said.

She said 92 percent of Alaskans live in communities with populations greater than 2,500, where an energy code would apply. Of those, 67 percent live in communities with building codes in place and 46 percent live in communities with energy codes already in place.

They also noted that many structures built with public money in rural communities through agencies such as the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. already have an energy code requirement. Also, rural projects paid for through the Denali Commission incorporate energy efficiency standards into their design.

Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Palmer and Skagway have energy codes in place. Ketchikan, Soldotna and Wrangell are considering them, the senators said. The Alaska State Home Building Association has a resolution supporting a statewide building code that would include an energy code.

The senators said cabins without central heating and plumbing would be exempt from the code, as would communities already exempt from the plumbing code.

Even with those exemptions, Alaska could easily meet the requirements for accepting these federal stimulus funds, they said.

Alaska was the only state to miss an initial deadline to apply for State Energy Program funds, the senators said, but could still meet a May 12 deadline.

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