Gov. Sarah Palin's top energy advisor came to Juneau on Tuesday, looking for answers to the state's difficult energy questions.
In one of a series of two dozen meetings around the state, Steve Haagenson, executive director of the Alaska Energy Authority, asked Juneau residents what they thought were good ideas for new sources of energy.
In the Aleutians, he said he discovered a tremendous geothermal resource that hasn't been tapped - but might be. If they could capture the heat from the ground, they could use it to power communities.
"You guys are sitting on a gold mine" Haagenson told them, if a way can be found to tap it.
About 30 Juneau residents gathered on a warm, sunny day to talk about ways to heat their homes and move themselves around town when it's cold, dark and wet.
Haagenson said that he grew up in Sitka, and knew how precious such a day was to give up for a discussion of public policy.
Some of those in attendance came from other communities, including Haines, Skagway, Angoon and Anchorage, talking about the challenges they face and the opportunities they have.
The authority will draft an energy plan that will help Alaska cope with soaring fuels prices. Those rising costs have hit especially hard in rural Alaska, where they have to burn a proportionally large amount of fuel just to transport it there.
One of the themes he heard from Southeast residents was the need for better electrical interties between communities.
Alaska, he said, has both energy blessings and curses. It has multiple sources of energy, but they're spread over a huge area, over which it is expensive to transport energy.
"Free power 100 miles away isn't free once you deliver it," he said.
Southeast is dotted with opportunities for hydroelectric production, said multiple audience members, but Southeast communities are so small that they don't use enough power to make projects worthwhile.
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich said reducing fuel usage should be an important part of the solution, possibly with better mass transit between Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna area, where cars flood the road daily.
"They're just consuming gas like crazy, and driving demand up," he said.
Haagenson also asked what types of energy use they opposed, and why.
For example, he said people who opposed use of coal due to greenhouse gas emissions might not oppose it if the carbon dioxide was captured and sequestered.
One audience member said he didn't like a suggestion that wood products be converted into fuel, even if the technology could manage it.
"I don't want to be pouring our forests into our gas tanks," he said.
Haagenson said that might be a viable energy production strategy if fast-growing willow or aspen were used, but he doesn't like the idea of using food crops such as corn to produce motor fuel.
"I don't think it is smart to use food to make energy," he said.
One thing he said was smart was using energy-efficient heat pumps, which get more energy out than goes into them by capturing heat in the environment.
Haagenson said he intends to try to figure out how much energy each community consumes, looking at electric, heating and transportation, and then where that can be done more efficiently.
"There's really no place to go look that number up," he said.
That will give local communities and the state Legislature the tools to begin addressing the issue, he said.
Haagenson said he hopes to complete the energy analysis by December.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.