The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
It's already here, and Alaska's potential is the envy of the states.
Alaska is an oil and gas producing state. Alaska also is working its way closer to the front lines of renewable energy research and production.
That's one of the encouraging conclusions to draw from the recent conference on "The Business of Clean Energy in Alaska," organized by the nonprofit Renewable Energy Alaska Project.
Clean, renewable energy isn't a starry-eyed vision of future centuries. It's now.
In Kodiak, the combination of hydroelectric power and wind turbines produces more than 88 percent of the island's electricity. Since 2009, wind power has produced almost 9 percent, saving $1.6 million in diesel fuel costs.
Twenty-two communities in rural Alaska have wind projects. The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative reports wind power displaced 147,000 gallons of diesel in 2009, saving $441,000. In Juneau, Alaska Electric Light and Power plans to deploy a light-duty fleet of electric vehicles and to encourage wider public use of such vehicles in a part of the state where short road distances make EVs practical. Utility president Tim McLeod said "let's import the lithium (for batteries) and stop importing the oil."
On the statewide level, bipartisan teams of lawmakers passed legislation to give the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation authority to bond for a $250 million loan fund to retrofit public buildings in the state for energy efficiency and to establish an Emerging Energy Technology Fund to demonstrate projects on the cutting edge.
Lawmakers also set two ambitious goals for Alaska - 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and a 15 percent reduction in per capita electricity use in the state by 2020.
Alaska already produces 24 percent of its electricity from hydro projects, mostly in Southeast. So we're about halfway to 50 percent now.
In addition, lawmakers also cut the state's royalty take on electricity produced by geothermal means, making what could be a 50 megawatt to 100 megawatt project at Mount Spurr more attractive, and enough to encourage the drilling needed to determine the real potential. Gov. Parnell signed the legislation into law.
The conference demonstrated that transition to clean renewable energy, while still a long-term work in progress, is well under way even without a federal energy plan. State and local governments, utilities, nonprofits and businesses have taken the initiative in tapping wind, solar and hydro generation.
Alaska is in better shape to do this than any other state in the union. As energy project director Chris Rose points out, we have natural and financial resources for which other states "would give their eye teeth." We're beginning to implement smart policies that use our oil wealth to tap renewable energy.
Renewables and oil and gas are not an either/or choice. Oil is still "the bedrock of the entire economy," Rose said, vital not only for heating and transportation but for the products we use to make wind turbines and solar panels. But the day will come when it makes less sense to burn it and more to manufacture with it.
We can tailor projects to our needs and strengths, but we don't have to start from scratch. Other states have shown the way - the Energy Trust of Oregon has helped thousands of businesses and individuals retrofit homes and buildings for electricity savings; Iowa produces almost 20 percent of its electricity from wind power and has attracted wind turbine manufacturers to its ready market.
Our relative isolation limits us in some respects, but our relative wealth and resources more than make up for it.
Hockey great Wayne Gretzky famously said that most players skate to where the puck is; he skates to where the puck is going to be. That's how Alaska needs to play.
Alaska's energy future is current events.