Energy Update 3-30-2011
By Kate McKeown
Every continent on the earth witnessed lights being turned off at 8:30pm on Saturday, March 26th. For sixty minutes approximately 128 countries, over 4000 cities and towns, and hundreds of millions of people joined together in the dark to show a collective display of commitment to protect the one thing that unites us all- the Earth. This hour is known as Earth Hour. The event is not only for households and businesses but one can also see iconic landmarks turn off their lights, such as the Las Vegas Strip, Eiffel Tower, Egyptian Pyramids, and the Empire State Building. Although energy savings is not the primary objective of the event, just imagine how much energy was saved! For example, in 2008 Toronto, Ontario saved 900 megawatt-hours of electricity during Earth Hour. To put this in perspective, during this one hour Toronto saved the same amount of energy used by 90 homes in one year.
Now let’s review last week’s energy events specific to Alaska. Let’s start at the capitol. On Monday, the Senate Resource Committee approved Senate Bill 42, which would allow the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) to buy, build, own, run and finance power projects, including a massive hydroelectric project like the proposed Susitna Dam, and to create a subsidiary to aid in the project if necessary. The bill has now moved to the Senate Finance Committee. Concurrently, AEA awarded MWH, a global engineering firm, a two to five year contract for hydropower engineering services to evaluate hydroelectric projects along the Alaska Railbelt electric grid. Again, this would include the proposed Susitna Dam. Also in the Legislature, the Senate Finance Committee is proposing to double the endowment fund for the Power Cost Equalization program, which subsidizes energy prices in rural Alaska. If approved, the program would be less dependent on the Legislature for future funds, which is has been every year for nearly 30 years.
Each year the Alaska Conservation Alliance chooses three legislative common agenda priorities. This year the Alliance selected one of the three to focus on improving energy efficiency for private commercial businesses. On Thursday, the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 32, which would appropriate $10 million to capitalize the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Fund, as outlined in last year’s Senate Bill 220. The revolving loan fund would allow businesses to apply for low-interest loans for their energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. The hearing included five great testimonies in support of the bill and was well received by Senate members. Since Senate Bill 32 is an appropriations bill, it means it is unlikely to be passed through the entire legislature. The more likely avenue to see program funding is through the capital budget, which will emerge from Senate Finance shortly and be negotiated over for the rest of this session.
Renewable energy projects in five rural communities received grant money from the Alaska Renewable Energy Fund, as reported this week. Community buildings in Igiugig, Iliamna, Kokhanok and Port Alsworth plan to use local spruce trees, which have been killed by beetles, to fuel the new wood boilers, thus reducing the amount of fuel oil used to heat their building. Also through the program, the community of Port Heiden received monies for design and construction of a new wind turbine.
Great numbers came in on Tuesday from AEA regarding the Emerging Energy Technology Fund (EETF) program. AEA announced that it had received 57 applications for the program. The current available funding for the program is $4.8 million which may sound like a lot until you compare it to the $22 million which the applicants are requesting. The EETF Advisory Committee will determine which applicants will receive funding. There is another round of “formal applications” submitted by approximately the top 20 applications, and out of those applications due May 11th, awards will be granted with innovative work hopefully happening this summer.
Year-long conversations have been held about the Fire Island Wind project since 2004. On Wednesday morning, Mayor Dan Sullivan publically announced that the project may not be good for Anchorage, given the economics. His announcement may have been a reaction to the Alaska Center for the Environment (ACE) and Alaska Public Interest Research Group’s (AkPIRG) call to Municipal Light and Power (ML&P) to participate in the project. In February, the Anchorage Assembly approved a resolution asking ML&P to negotiate an agreement to buy some of the wind power but since then ML&P has not committed to participate in a power purchase agreement. On Wednesday afternoon, the ML&P Board of Directors passed a motion in support of the project. With both the Assembly and Board of Directors supporting the project, one would think it would be easy for ML&P to commit, but unfortunately we haven’t seen this happen yet. If you would like to help, send a letter to your utility telling them that you support the Fire Island Wind Project.