Commentary: Alaska Legislature has renewable energy to consider

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

The 2009 Legislature met as Alaska was reeling from a record-breaking run-up in energy prices. It was a vivid and painful example of how important it is to get Alaska consumers off the energy-price roller coaster. Renewable energy ideas got a lot of discussion, but few made their way into law. The Legislature, with Gov. Palin's encouragement, did set aside $25 million to fund another round of renewable energy projects. Other potentially helpful proposals are still alive for action in the 2010 session. Legislators and Gov. Palin cannot allow today's slide in energy prices to sap momentum for diversifying Alaska's energy supplies.


One great idea is a bill to encourage energy-efficiency retrofits of state buildings. (Energy that you save is "renewable" if the savings recur year after year.) In a pilot project, the savings from retrofitting just eight buildings will run half a million dollars this year, according to Joel St. Aubin, chief of statewide public facilities. The state didn't even have to pay for the improvements up front. It financed the energy-saving investments -- such as more efficient lighting, electric motors, and boilers -- with loans from private sources, who then get paid back with a share of the state's savings on energy bills. (In this way, the arrangement resembles a bond that is paid back with revenue from a state project or venture.) SB121, from Anchorage Sens. Lesil McGuire and Bill Wielechowski, would require energy audits and cost-effective improvements in state facilities, using this pay-as-you-save financing where necessary.


Net metering is another popular idea for promoting small-scale renewable energy. Say you put up a windmill, or solar electric panels, to supply your own house or business. If you produce more electricity than you are using, you want to feed the extra back to your utility. In effect, you could run your electric meter backwards. Besides maybe wiping out your electric bill entirely, you might even make money selling surplus power.

Utilities aren't wild about net metering, since it forces them to buy power at retail rates, well above their wholesale power cost. If too many of their customers have net metering, they'd go broke.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.