Plow Energy Revenue Windfall
and Power Transmission Systems
By Sen. Lisa Murkowski
July 11, 2008
Everyone in Alaska knows that the current record prices for fossil
fuels are a two-edged sword. They are fattening the state's treasury
while shrinking Alaskans' pocketbooks and driving "energy
refugees" from villages as fuel costs pass the point of
Everyone in Alaska also knows that as the Legislature heads into
another special session, the State must help Alaskans deal with
the current energy crisis. But when you are up to your neck in
alligators sometimes it's easy to forget that the best long-term
strategy is to drain the swamp.
I would like to add my voice
to the growing chorus of those who believe it is imperative that
the State commit up to half of its likely revenue windfall over
the next several years, not just to provide immediate energy
price relief to individuals, but to build renewable energy and
power transmission systems that will guarantee affordable energy
to all Alaskans. Such a fix has the added bonus of being the
largest single step the state can take to lay a solid foundation
for our economic future.
The ultimate solution to reduce prices is to increase domestic
oil and gas production, and we all must redouble our efforts
to promote such increased supplies in Alaska. But I applaud
the efforts to provide immediate energy aid to help Alaskans
struggling to fill their gasoline tanks and pay their utility
bills. In rural Alaska the state's Power Cost Equalization program
needs to be uncapped, expanded to aid businesses and better funded
which can occur without discouraging energy conservation.
An expanded loan program to help cash-strapped villages buy fuel
for the coming winter is also vital.
In Congress I have pushed efforts to vastly expand the Low Income
Home Energy Assistance Program and to better fund energy-saving
weatherization efforts. I have won a renewable energy grant program
and authorized more energy funding for the Denali Commission.
But unless Alaska wants to risk conditioning its citizens to
expect ever rising state energy handouts, the only prudent course
is to convert the current oil-fed windfall into new renewable
power sources that will pay dividends for decades.
The Denali Commission last year gathered more than a billion
dollars of generally good energy ideas. Regional energy plans
have been hammered out in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Kenai and the
Mat-Su. The Bristol Bay Region and Aleutians have considered
plans. And a Southeast intertie-energy plan has been on the books
for many years. Until now, there's been no shortage of plans
-- only cash to match hard-won federal aid.
Granted there are hard decisions to come: Do you proceed with
a "bullet line" to bring North Slope gas to the Railbelt?
Do you diversify the region's power mix by building renewable
projects such as Lake Chackachamna and some-sort of Susitna
hydro, Mt. Spurr and Chena geothermal and Fire Island and Neva
Creek wind? Do you also build municipal waste and coal gasification
projects capable of capturing and storing carbon emissions when
the technology is perfected? Do you finish a Southeast intertie
while building renewable hydro, ocean and geothermal projects
from Angoon to Pilgrim Hot Springs?
Do you proceed with a geothermal fed energy line for Bristol
Bay? Do you press for geothermal, natural gas and wind turbines
for the Aleutians and Seward Peninsula? Do you fund biomass,
solar, ocean and wind for Interior communities and provide for
wind, hydro, and even hydrogen generation elsewhere? Do you continue
to upgrade village diesel generators to improve efficiency and
provide backup when the wind doesn't blow or blows too hard and
downs transmission lines? Do you consider small nuclear, fuel
cell or landfill gas plants?
The answer to most of these questions is yes. Alaskans can't
be so foolish, however, as to that think we will have the financial
means to build every project overnight. We still will need to
leverage funds and make tough choices on what will be most environmentally
sound and cost competitive. But if we are smart, we can avoid
driving up construction costs and flushing petrodollars down
the drain by buying off the shelf technology.
Alaska can have a far brighter future if we concentrate on what
immediate aid Alaskans need and then direct as much of our windfall
to projects that will permanently convert the state's wealth
into carbon-free renewable power to lower everyone's energy costs.
Back in 1981, the time of the
state's first energy-price boom, then- Governor Jay Hammond proposed
the "Year of Transportation," briefly suggesting the
state use most all of that year's expected oil-price windfall
to rebuild all of the state's highways. If that had actually
happened, we would have been far better off than we are a quarter
century later still laboring to upgrade the Railbelt's transportation
network, much less fashion one for the rest of the State.
Let's be bold this time, learn from the past and energize our
future by revolutionizing our energy sector once and equitably
for all. Let's make 2008 the "Year of Energy." As
the Anchorage energy plan points out: "Hope is not a strategy."
But Alaskans helping ourselves to solve one of our most vexing
problems is a strategy we can be proud to accomplish.
About: U.S. Sen. Murkowski
is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Received July 11, 2008 - Published
July 11, 2008
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