Alaska Residents Weigh in
on Statewide Energy Plan
Many Disappointed by Loss
of Federal Stimulus Funds for Energy Projects
May 31, 2009
Alaska State Senators visited Interior communities last week
to see firsthand the devastating effects of high fuel and energy
prices and to learn about alternative and renewable energy technologies
that could help solve energy challenges in both rural and urban
"It was an eye-opening experience to talk with the community
leaders in Tanana and Ruby, and meet residents who can barely
afford to stay in their villages because of the exorbitantly
high price of fuel oil," said Senator Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage),
Co-Chair of the Senate Resources Committee and Chair of the Senate
Energy Committee. "In Fairbanks, we learned about ongoing
research important for developing practical alternatives that
Alaskan villages can use to reduce energy costs and survive."
The seven Senators, including members of the Energy, Resources
and Finance Committees, spent Tuesday in Fairbanks and Wednesday
in Tanana and Ruby. In Fairbanks, they toured the innovative
geothermal power plant at Chena Hot Springs and learned about
groundbreaking research being done at the Cold Climate Housing
Research Center and the Alaska Center for Energy and Power on
the UAF campus.
The fourth in a series
of field hearings on a statewide energy plan was held by the
House Special Committee on Energy in Bethel Friday. Pictured
are community members attending the meeting.
In Tanana, the Senators toured a ravaged community that is still
digging out and beginning to rebuild after recent Yukon River
flooding destroyed dozens of homes and displaced almost half
the village's population. Tanana residents are seeking energy
efficiency upgrades for their school, the cornerstone of their
community, which cost over $100K in energy costs last June alone.
In Ruby, the Senate Energy/Resources group saw an innovative
prototype of an electrical generation system that has the potential
to produce significant amounts of electricity from the flow of
"The people of Tanana need state and federal help immediately;
they have really come together as a community to clean up much
of the flood damage, but they can not do it alone," said
Senator Bill Wielechowski, Co-Chair of the Senate Resources Committee.
"They impressed upon us the importance of the fact that
they have only a few months of summer in which to repair and
replace dozens of homes and other structures. They are seeking
energy efficient repairs and replacements and can't wait for
a slow bureaucracy."
Travelling with the group ot
these communities were Senate President Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak),
Senators Joe Thomas (D-Fairbanks), Joe Paskvan (D-Fairbanks),
Hollis French (D-Anchorage), Tom Wagoner (R-Kenai), Lesil McGuire
and Bill Wielechowski.
Hearings in these communities
were reportedly well-attended and included thoughtful comments
from community members and energy experts.
The fourth in a series of field
hearings on a statewide energy plan was held by the House Special
Committee on Energy in Bethel Friday. A total of ten state representatives
took part in the hearing.
"Rural Alaskans are really enthusiastic that we're working
on a statewide energy plan," said Energy Co-chair Bryce
Edgmon, D-Dillingham. "Energy costs have skyrocketed across
the state but in areas like Bethel, it's a choice between heat
and other necessities. Rural Alaskans want a viable energy plan
not a handout."
"Our field hearings give rural residents the opportunity
to participate directly in the legislative process," said
Co-chair Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage. "140 dollar oil
brought rural and urban Alaskans together to push for a statewide
Several Bethel residents testified they were dismayed when Governor
Sarah Palin vetoed $28.6 million in federal stimulus funds for
weatherization and renewable energy projects. They encouraged
the committee to work with the governor to accept the energy
funds for the good of the entire state.
The House Special Committee on Energy will travel to Fairbanks
next month and more communities throughout the year while it
continues to take a leadership role in the legislature on building
the framework for a statewide energy plan.
The committee also sponsored legislation to create a new state
department of energy last session.
Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and House Finance
Co-chair Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, attended the hearing. Representative
Bob Herron, D-Bethel, also participated and welcomed his colleagues
to his hometown.
Senators McGuire and Wielechowski
hope to take members of the committees on several more trips
before the legislature re-convenes in January, visiting Bristol
Bay, the Aleutians, Southeast Alaska and other possible destinations.
The Senate Resources Co-Chairs would like to talk to as many
Alaskans as possible about the realities of trying to make it
in rural Alaska in an era of unprecedented high fuel prices and
help to identify energy solutions based on the diverse resources
and needs found in communities throughout the state. McGuire
said the Senate wants to begin work as soon as possible with
the Governor and members of the House on formulating a State
Energy Plan to guide the state for decades to come.
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