Palin to offer plans for state energy relief

Posted: Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gov. Sarah Palin will announce plans for statewide energy relief on Thursday, and legislators are weighing in on what should be in those plans.

On Monday, The Associated Press reported that those plans would require a special session of the Alaska Legislature to implement, which would follow a special session already scheduled to begin June 3.

Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow did not return calls from the Juneau Empire on Monday.

Palin said Friday her administration has been working on a methodical, long-term approach to deal with rising energy prices, but now immediate help is needed.

"With today's prices, we don't have the luxury of time," she said. "Alaska's families, communities and businesses are hurting, and we need relief now."

The legislative session that concluded in April considered but did not act on energy relief bills.

A House bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas Jr., R-Haines, would have boosted Alaska Permanent Fund dividends to share the state's oil wealth, while a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, would have provided electric rate relief.

Monday, House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, called upon Palin to expand the call of the already scheduled special legislative session to "include measures that help provide energy cost relief to Alaskans."

Thomas' bill stalled in the House Finance Committee last session, at a time when Harris was a member of that committee.

Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, one of those communities hit hardest by energy costs, supports the call to address the issue in a special session.

"I think it absolutely should be," she said. "I definitely think the Legislature is going to have to address this."

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, was skeptical, however.

"She (the governor) could add it to the call if she wanted, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a good idea," he said.

The 30-day special session has already been called to consider an application under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, presumably that of TransCanada Corp., the only applicant determined to qualify for a state natural gas pipeline deal.

Alaska's oil producers have opposed the state's gas pipeline plans, and their legislative allies have indicated they'll likely oppose granting a license to TransCanada.

Elton said that in past sessions there have been allegations that votes were traded on other issues to win support for some plans.

"The beauty of a single call session is you can't trade off," he said.

Palin's new energy coordinator, Steve Haagenson, has been touring the state in a series of town hall meetings seeking citizen views on what should be done to find new and cheaper sources of energy.

"We at the Alaska Energy Authority are continuing our efforts to develop a long-range plan," spokesman Karsten Rodvik said.

The plan might include finding specialized local solutions in various communities, such as developing hydroelectric or geothermal resources, and the authority is part-way through a series of 25 meetings on the issue around the state.

"Obviously, these solutions are not going to happen overnight if people are talking hydro or geothermal," Rodvik said.

Haagenson is hearing there's need for long-term help, but there's also a critical immediate need as well, he said.

"People are wanting something today," Rodvik said. "In some areas, the situation has reached crisis proportions."

Alaska can afford to help out, Palin said.

For each month the price of Alaska crude oil remains above $120 a barrel, the state earns an additional $650 million a month more than forecasted during the last legislative session. Oil prices rose above $126 a barrel Monday.

"The state treasury is swelling while the family checkbook is evaporating," Palin said.

If a special session were to be called for after the AGIA session, it is not clear when that might be. Special session calls are for 30 days, but under the provisions of AGIA, the Legislature has 60 days in which to act on a recommendation from the governor.

Complicating scheduling is that the 60-day clock begins not at the start of the special session, but at an as-yet-undetermined date in the week of May 19, when Palin presents her recommendations to the Legislature.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail

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