Palin unveils renewable energy plan

AP Photo/Al Grillo

Gov. Sarah Palin on Jan. 16 unveiled a new state energy development plan focused on renewable energy sources and set a long-range goal of generating 50 percent of the state’s electricity with renewable resources by 2025.

Palin also released a list of 79 renewable energy projects, mostly for small rural communities, she will recommend to the state Legislature for approval. Last year, state lawmakers appropriated $100 million for wind, biomass and small hydro projects around the state and tasked the Alaska Energy Authority with the task of doing technical reviews on proposals and making final recommendations to the Legislature, which must approve the projects.

Special Assistant to the Governor Joe Balash talks about the the state’s energy plan during a news conference in Anchorage. Revenue Commissioner and Alaska Energy Authority Chairman Pat Galvin (left), Bill McAllister, Gov. Palin’s spokesman, Energy Coordinator Steve Haagenson, and Gov. Sarah Palin listen.
AP Photo/Al Grillo

The Legislature approved a three-year program to fund $250 million in renewable energy projects, with the $100 million appropriated in 2008 as the first phase. Three more increments of funding are expected to be approved by lawmakers, with $50 million anticipated in 2009.

Low prices and an expected state deficit this year may dent the Legislature’s enthusiasm for funding the program, however. Palin said she will press for approval of the 79 projects and the future funding.

"We will ask the Legislature to stand by its commitment," she said.

In a briefing held in Anchorage Jan. 16, Palin said 234 proposals were received by the energy authority totaling $755 million in requests for funds. Some 79 of the 234 were given high technical and feasibility rankings. Those can be funded with the $100 million appropriation, Palin said at the briefing.

Most of Alaska’s electricity is now generated with natural gas and oil, but hydroelectric facilities in Alaska’s southern panhandle region provide a significant percent of power for several small communities in that region.

In Southcentral Alaska, where most of the state’s population lives, a hydro facility at Bradley Lake, on the Kenai Peninsula, supplements power generated with natural gas by utilities in the region.

Diesel is used for power generation in small rural villages in remote parts of the state.

Joe Balash, Palin’s energy aide, said the governor’s plan is to gradually move rural communities off diesel-fueled electrical generation and to diversify the energy sources for power generation in Southcentral and Interior Alaska, which now rely on fossil fuel generation.

Balash said the state energy authority has been working with utilities in the region on a plan to develop large new energy projects to serve Southcentral and Interior Alaska.

One or two larger renewable energy projects are likely to be in the plan, Balash said. Palin will also recommend to the Legislature the creation of a new authority to build generation facilities for Southcentral and Interior Alaska, Balash said. Existing power plants, mostly gas-fired, are aging and are due for replacement.

The state is also studying a hydroelectric project on the Susitna River, located north of Anchorage, and private firm TDX Power is working on a lake-tap project at Lake Chakachamna, southwest of Anchorage.

A geothermal project is also being evaluated by firm Ormat Nevada Inc. at Mount Spurr, an active volcano near Lake Chakachamna.

In the briefing, Palin said Alaskans have enjoyed inexpensive natural gas and subsidies for diesel generation for many years, but with the recent volatility in prices it is time to diversify the fuel mix.

"We have long had very affordable energy, but there were harsh lessons learned last year when energy prices went up. There is a new sense of urgency," to diversification, Palin said.

The recent drop in oil prices has given Alaskan consumers some relief, "but we shouldn’t let this lull us into complacency. We must stick with our energy plan," Palin said.

11/15/2016 - 1:30pm