Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has announced an ambitious plan to produce half of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
Palin’s plan, which empowers local municipalities to identify and develop the most cost-efficient renewable power sources available to them, won immediate praise from environmental groups, consumer groups, and industry.
Local Solutions Identified
The plan was presented in a 245-page document, Alaska Energy: A First Step Toward Energy Independence. It identifies each community’s current energy needs for electrical generation, space heating, and transportation while developing a list of solutions to lower energy costs.
In a January 16 press conference, Palin said her plan was designed to break away from energy proposals produced in prior years but never implemented. Key to turning ideas into action under the Palin plan is identification of the most cost-effective energy alternatives for each community and region in the state.
Inducing Industry Cooperation
Palin’s plan also aims to encourage six state utilities to “stop traditional infighting and take a regional approach for new power generation projects that could lower costs,” reported the Anchorage Daily News on January 16.
“Governor Palin encouraging the various power companies to work together under the same umbrella is a very important and desirable development,” said Christopher Rose, executive director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. “If we have this integrated regional planning we would be much more likely to meet the 50 percent goal.”
One project requiring regional cooperation would be a large hydroelectric dam at Susitna. In the 1970s state officials first began considering such a dam on the river just north of Anchorage. With most of Alaska’s population residing in the Anchorage region, the dam would provide emissions-free electricity to 70 percent of the state’s residents.
Hydroelectric power is one of the least-expensive forms of energy, but it requires substantial upfront investment. A large hydroelectric dam on the Susitna River would likely cost between $5 billion and $10 billion to build, according to current estimates. Such a project would require state oversight and unprecedented cooperation from regional utilities.
Palin has not indicated whether she supports construction of a Susitna River dam, but it is the type of project her energy plan would make economically and politically possible for the first time.
Environmentalists Offer Praise
Environmental groups praised Palin’s proposal.
“We just became a leader among states in committing to renewable energy as the power source of the future,” Pat Lavin, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, told the Anchorage Daily News for its January 16 story.
Lavin called Palin’s proposal “a defining moment in Alaska’s history.”
Kate Troll, executive director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance, offered praise as well.
“We think the 50 percent renewable energy goal by 2025 is a laudable goal. We would like to see it incorporated into the energy plan. We would also like to see the demand side addressed, in terms of energy efficiency. Palin has acknowledged the need for this in her public statements, and we would like to see this cemented in the plan,” Troll said.
Alternatives to Diesel
Troll was especially hopeful about the plan’s potential for replacing diesel power in rural communities.
“A lot of our renewable energy potential is near remote villages that are currently dependent on diesel. We are very hopeful that we can pioneer some wind/diesel hybrid projects or new hydro projects in these areas to replace diesel,” said Troll.
“The type of hydro power we have right now are not the massive dams, they are more like ‘lake tap’ dams, and we are supportive of them. We see them as renewable energy and would support more of them,” Troll added. “We have located our dams away from major salmon streams so environmentally they are much more benign.”
“Environmental groups understand that we need baseload power,” agreed Rose. “Wind and most other renewable resources are not baseload. Environmental groups here in Alaska understand that if we don’t use hydro for our baseload power, we will be getting coal instead.”
Even liberal newspaper columnists were impressed with Palin’s plan, praising it as forward-thinking.
“I don’t often applaud Palin, but I give her kudos for announcing a bold and comprehensive energy guide for the state of Alaska,” wrote columnist Robert Paul Reyes on the News Blaze Web site.
Everything on Table
In presenting her energy plan, Palin noted Alaska has more abundant renewable power sources than most other states. In a February 1 editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune she emphasized her agreement with President Barack Obama, who pledged during his campaign pledge that “everything was on the table” to address America’s energy challenges.
Specifically, Palin called on Congress not to prohibit oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and pour much-needed royalty payments into the federal treasury to help alleviate a spiraling federal deficit, while having minimal impact on the tundra environment.
“The development of oil and clean-burning natural gas isn’t a panacea,” wrote Palin. “However, this development should be authorized in comprehensive legislation that includes alternative fuels, fuel efficiency and conservation.”
“We are supportive of our onshore natural gas being exported to the lower 48 states,” Troll said. “We see natural gas as a bridge fuel to a clean, secure energy future. We have a lot of natural gas on the North Slope. We are supportive of continued production of this.”
Alyssia Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.