Commentary: Invest in renewable energy

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

The panel that opened the big renewable energy conference in Anchorage on Monday morning offered some good answers to skeptics who might ask, "Why get all hot and bothered about promoting renewable energy?" Ron Lehr, a consultant to the American Wind Energy Association and a former utility commissioner in Colorado, pointed out it's risky to depend on one fuel source for 90-plus percent of your electricity. (Almost all of Anchorage's electricity comes from natural gas, with a bit of hydro power thrown in.)

Just as investors need to diversify their portfolios, utilities and communities need to diversify their sources of energy supply.

Lehr's advice helps answer critics who say renewable energy makes sense only when it pencils out compared with fossil fuels. As Lehr noted, it's impossible to predict what fuel prices will be, and energy sources like solar and wind power have a zero fuel cost, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. Fossil fuel alternatives might look superior today, but turn out far worse in the future.

In Lehr's view, even if alternative energy investments don't pencil out in the short run, they can be considered as insurance, or hedging, against higher fuel prices. That's a prudent and justifiable thing to do when you rely so heavily on a commodity whose price is so volatile.

Renewable energy doesn't have to come from a single, huge centralized project. In her Monday evening keynote address, Colorado renewable energy advocate Hunter Lovins noted that Southern California Edison replaced a canceled coal plant with rooftop solar units installed around the region.

Lovins also said the city of Berkeley, Calif., sold bonds so it could make loans to homeowners who want to install their own renewable energy source. Homeowners pay back the loan via their city tax assessments. In effect, Berkeley created a special tax assessment "district" for renewable energy.

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