SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Energy: We can't just have a box of chocolates
By Sen. Kim Elton


July 27, 2008

This week I'm giving my laptop's keyboard a break. I'm not putting more miles on the A,G, I, and A keys. Truth be told, I'm so tired of downloading and forwarding data on gas pipeline economics that I too need a short break from that acronym I'm not mentioning in this newsletter.

The gasline rhetoric unfortunately obscures the rest of this special session's agenda--energy. The energy bills include: the governor's $1,200 cash payout; and the governor's proposed suspension of the state's motor fuel tax.

To spare anyone the pain of reading all the way to the bottom of this newsletter to get my reaction to the governor's energy lynchpins, I'll be upfront. In my considered, calm and nonjudgmental opinion, these two bills have all the nutrition of bon-bons. They substitute sugar for protein.

These bills were proposed by the governor outside the context of an administration energy plan--a plan the administration promises to unveil in December. It's kinda like a child asking "when's dinner" and hearing in response "a half an hour, honey, why don't you have a couple candy bars if you're hungry." As my personal battle with chocolate demonstrates, once you go for the candy, nutritious greens somehow seem less appealing.

Despite my highly negative reaction, I'm willing to consider the governor's bills. But only as a small portion of dessert after a healthy, stick to your ribs meal that includes plenty of veggies.

Before I talk about veggies, let me add some broad context. I agree with The World is Flat author Thomas Friedman who recently crystallized what I've been feeling about this new century's major challenge. He identified five issues--energy resource supply and demand, petro-dictatorship, biodiversity loss, climate change, and energy poverty. "We're not post-something anymore," he says. "We're not post-war, we're not post-Cold War, we're not post-post Cold War. We're pre-something. And what we're pre- . . . is the energy climate era, defined by these five problems going over a tipping point."

Despite Friedman's global context, as a state almost totally dependent upon the extraction of hydrocarbons we have both the opportunity and the obligation to quickly get beyond bon-bon solutions. This doesn't mean we discourage production of Alaska's oil and gas but that we use the benefits of that production to get quickly to a post-'energy poverty' era.

Given that, here's some ideas other than just having some more chocolate:

Alaska needs a cabinet level energy coordinator. Right now, our energy coordinator is the equivalent of a deputy director in a state authority in the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. It's tough to coordinate energy policy across the silos of the state bureaucracies when the energy policy deputy reports first to an authority executive director who reports to a commissioner of one department who then reports to the governor and cabinet.

We need a much stronger university research component that focuses not just on training workers for energy jobs but also works on new and emerging technologies that get renewable solutions to communities and individuals. The university has a good foundation in the Cold Climate Housing Research Program and is now boosting an energy research program that needs to grow even more and needs to reach deep into the private sector to leaven the academic with the commercial.

We need to acknowledge we can't just drill our way out of the crisis and we must also focus on conservation. We must build upon the conservation start the legislature made in the last regular session with the $300 million home weatherization program and the $50 million renewable energy program. We know conservation works--Juneau proved it following the Snettisham avalanches.

And, just as importantly, we must deliver immediate relief to Alaskans who don't have a buffer to protect them from skyrocketing energy costs. Two bills before this special session are good starts--a logical expansion of the Power Cost Equalization (PCE) program that allows electricity stressed urban communities to participate, and expansion of state participation in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) so it relieves energy-induced stress on mid-income Alaskans also.

Because Alaskans face even bigger energy challenges than non-Alaskans (given our geography, given our climate, given our rudimentary transportation infrastructure and the associated costs) because Alaskans are entrepreneurial, and because we have the financial resources, we can both cushion those threatened by energy costs and develop the technologies needed in this new century to meet our energy needs.

By committing to long-term energy solutions, Alaska can be the Silicon Valley of energy innovation.

The rewards are multiple: we create a new in-state economy; we help get our nation past this imminent 'energy poverty' era; and we demonstrate to energy-buyer states we're not simply enriching ourselves at their expense.

About: Sen. Kim Elton is a member of the Alaska Legislature representing Juneau.

Received July 25, 2008 - Published July 27, 2008



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Ketchikan, Alaska