Alaska, facing high local oil and gas costs, looks to new plans

Hoping to save on heating oil, some villagers in the Koyukuk River community of Alatna are driving snowmachines eight or nine miles out of town this winter for firewood, said acting tribal administrator Amelia Edwards.

The village sits along the Arctic Circle, just west of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Gasoline, flown to a nearby village and hauled behind snowmachines across the frozen river, costs $7 a gallon, she said. "Most people need the gas to haul wood and hunt. But some people can't afford that. . . . They go without," Edwards said.

While heating oil and gasoline prices in rural Alaska have dropped since hitting staggering highs in the summer of 2008, costs remain more than 30 percent higher than in 2005, according to a recent survey by the state Division of Community and Regional Affairs. High unemployment rates, limited local economies and local governments struggling to provide basic services "continue to present rural Alaskan communities and households with challenging circumstances and no current long-term solution," the division reported in January. The costs add to these challenges.

Meantime, lawmakers are considering a slew of proposals that would shift the way Alaska oversees energy. Alaska Federation of Natives leaders told legislators Thursday they support pieces of an expansive energy bill that would: require that schools and major public construction projects are built to energy-efficient standards; create a state Department of Energy; remove restrictions on nuclear power projects; create funds to pay for "emerging technology" and small-scale alternative energy projects; and establish renewable energy tax credits.

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