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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Alaska Energy Authority's Energy Resource Plan
By Paul Olson


March 14, 2012

Dear Editor:

The Southeast Integrated Resource Plan comment period ends March 19. The SEIRP lays out various scenarios for conversion to alternative sources of heat energy for the region. We believe the plan wrongly favors conversion to biomass sources of heat energy while ignoring or downplaying the effectiveness of other alternatives.   The plan calls for an 80% conversion from oil and electric heat across the region to wood pellet stoves and boilers.   It largely ignored the use of heat pumps as a highly effective and economical source of heat.

There are several issues with the use of biomass that the plan failed to address.  For instance, while pellets are burned at much higher temperatures than ordinary wood stoves, the emissions still contribute to overall carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.  This is a significant lost opportunity cost in terms of allocating public resources to an energy source that is neither clean nor carbon neutral.  It is true that biomass heat advocates tend to describe their programs as “carbon neutral” which would mean that there is no change in the amount of carbon emitted to the atmosphere. These statements are not accurate.  It is now widely recognized that utilizing biomass for heat or energy will never achieve carbon reductions in the next few decades that are meaningful for climate change purposes. In fact they will make things worse.

There are serious questions regarding the potential health consequences of emissions from biomass burning. While the emissions cannot be seen, there are questions regarding health risks. For instance, emission particles from wood pellet stoves are believed to be nanoparticle size and can penetrate directly across lung membranes to the blood. These risks are thought to be higher for children and senior citizens.  The American Lung Association and American Heart Association as well as numerous physicians and scientist groups are on record in opposition to the use of biomass.

We also have serious concerns regarding the economic feasibility of the SEIRP’s biomass program.  The enormous cost it recommends – half a billion dollars – does not even include the costs of infrastructure needed to develop a local supply.  Moreover, because of an arithmetic error, the SEIRP makes heat pumps appear to be twice as expensive to operate as pellet stoves.  But in fact, pellet stoves are 60% to 160% more expensive than heat pumps under various assumptions in the plan.  This is particularly disturbing since the contractor who produced the plan has a conflict of interest in promoting global scale biomass development.

GSACC submits that a better program would allocate public resources to heat pumps rather than to biomass heat.  Residents of southeast Alaska should ask that the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) rescind the current draft and go back to the drawing board and seek out honest energy solutions that are affordable for our communities and genuinely carbon neutral.  The address is Alaska Energy Authority, 813 West Northern Lights Boulevard, Anchorage, AK 99503.

Paul Olson
Board President
Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community
Sitka, AK


Received March 14, 2012 - Published March 14, 2012


Alaska Energy Authority
Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Plan


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