March 15, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 11

Peggy's Corner of the House

Hello again from the Alaska Legislature. Well, it’s still snowing and we’re still debating Education Funding, Oil and Gas Taxes, and lots of other issues that are so important to Alaska’s future. I hope we’re able to get it all done within the next 38 days.

The high cost of energy is one big issue that impacts all of us. The mission of the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) is to “reduce the cost of energy in Alaska”. To that end, the AEA worked with Southeast Conference to produce the Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Plan (SEIRP), which is a regional energy plan with a focus on power and heating. According to AEA Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad, “This plan provides options for right-sized, cost effective, community-based solutions.”

The House Energy committee listened to two days of public testimony on the SEIRP. There was a lot of testimony, and many concerns were raised about the plan. I also have several serious concerns; one being about the accuracy of some of the cost comparison predictions. The total lack of information about some of the newer energy and heating technologies also bothers me. If this truly is a multi-year plan - that could affect what types of energy projects are developed in the near and long-term future - then I believe we need to seriously look at all possible energy technologies; like heat pumps, seawater heat pumps, and other alternatives, rather than focusing so strongly on the latest wood biomass option.

The Economic Development Trade and Tourism committee also heard presentations on wood biomass boilers, with a brief discussion of how they fit into the SEIRP. My concern with wood biomass is that, in itself, this heating option won’t be economical unless we can get businesses started in Southeast Alaska to provide the wood pellets or chips. Having to import another fuel source from Canada or the lower 48 will continue to leave us dependent on outside influences and prices.

I also think that the drafters of the plan failed to look at possible economic development in the region. They were assuming a continuation of the population decline that we’re currently experiencing, without thinking of ways to turn it around. The future is always hard to predict, and often surprises us; and I think the plan should take into account possibilities on the positive side. We could very well see an increase in jobs with the growth of Kensington Mine, Greens Creek or the future development of Rare Earth Element mines and others that have been talked about so much. I believe the whole concept of a regional energy plan – that is supposed to bring energy costs down - needs much more work.

The draft SEIRP is posted on the Alaska Energy Authority website, AKEnergyAuthority.org, and public comments are being requested through Monday, March 19 at 5pm. I encourage anyone interested to review the documents and make comments. The recommendations in this plan could affect future legislation for energy projects in our communities.

The Alaska Marine Highway System is also requesting public comments on the proposed schedule for Fall and Winter 2012 and Spring 2013. This is your opportunity to review and comment on the proposed schedule, with community events in mind. Written comments will be accepted via email at dot.amhs.comments@Alaska.gov or by fax at 586-8365, prior to March 22. The documents, and more information about a teleconference on March 27, can be found at FerryAlaska.com.

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