Alaska needs both short-, long-term energy solutions

Alaska needs both short-, long-term energy solutions

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin recently unveiled her short-term energy plan to help Alaskans deal with skyrocketing energy costs. She proposes to spend some $1.2 billion of surplus funds the state earned from high oil prices to reduce Alaska residents’ electricity and fuel costs for one year. The legislature may soon be considering Gov. Palin’s plan.

Gov. Palin says Alaskans need to be self-sufficient and solve their own problems instead of waiting for a federal government solution. I agree. Nobody responds to challenge better than Alaskans. It is time for Alaskans to act to protect our state’s economic and energy independence.

I will be the first to acknowledge there is no magic answer that will solve all of our energy problems. But, it seems to me that energy independence is as much a political challenge as it is an engineering or exploration problem.We need to look beyond the wish to simply drill our way to energy independence, because as we are experiencing in the Cook Inlet basin, oil and gas reservoirs eventually run out. Energy independence will take a combination of political leadership, sacrifice by individual energy consumers and sound policies to harness Alaskan’s imagination, intellect and entrepreneurial spirit to develop new energy resources and reduce energy demand.

Will these new energy resources completely replace our dependence on oil and gas resources? No — and no one expects that they will. However, figuring out how to use Alaska’s other energy resources will extend our oil and gas supplies, diversify our sources of energy and meet our state’s long-term needs.

Fortunately, our Cook Inlet region has vast, non-fuel energy resources that are ready for development. We have wind resources on Fire Island and elsewhere that could be online and offsetting oil and natural gas burn within two years. Cook Inlet’s huge tidal flux is one of the planet’s largest tidal energy resources. Water running down the mountains into Cook Inlet provides tremendous hydroelectric potential. And the volcanoes along Cook Inlet’s west shore generate vast, untapped geothermal energy.

These resources may have in the past, even the recent past, seemed too exotic for consideration. But times have changed. The market price of oil and gas has risen dramatically and is likely to keep climbing, making the cost of non-fuel energy resources more competitive. Moreover, the general public is increasingly interested in seeing that energy produced from renewable resources is added to the mix of energy supplies. It is time for political leaders to recognize the potential of non-fuel resources and encourage their development to meet the Railbelt’s near-term energy needs.

I am pleased that our political leaders, namely members of the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Palin, are showing that they recognize the value that non-fuel resources can provide for Alaska. Last session the Governor and the Legislature took steps toward securing Alaska’s energy independence by creating the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund. In addition, the Legislature appropriated $25 million to the Alaska Energy Authority to build infrastructure needed to move electric power generated by our proposed Fire Island wind project to Railbelt utilities for distribution to electricity consumers. Gov. Palin wisely recognized this project’s great potential and approved the appropriation.

Alaska has a budget surplus this year because of the extra revenues it has collected from record-high oil prices. It is appropriate that our elected officials invest this surplus money to support new energy projects that will provide Alaskans long-term relief from rising energy costs. Balancing between Alaska’s short- and long-term energy and economic needs is one of our leaders’ most difficult and most important challenges. Gov. Palin demonstrated that she is not afraid of this challenge when she approved the Legislature’s $25 million appropriation to support Fire Island wind power.

By: Margie Brown, CIRI president and CEO