Alaska has chance to be clean-energy leader
August 1, 2010
REAP Communications Director Stephanie Nowers wrote this editorial which appeared in the Anchorage Daily News
With the recent disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, people across the country have been questioning our country’s reliance on fossil fuels and are searching for alternatives to diversify our energy supply. Many are looking more closely at Alaska’s efforts. A recent online report by Atlantic Monthly writer Alexis Madrigal went so far as to say people should look to the 49th state to see the future of clean energy. That may be a bit of a stretch, but Alaska is blessed with vast supplies of renewable energy from wind to geothermal to tidal, and we are already utilizing those resources to a far greater extent than many people realize.
More than 20 communities from Kasigluk to Hooper Bay to Unalakleet are now partially powered by wind. On Kodiak Island, the Kodiak Electric Association is now generating 89 percent of its electricity with wind and hydropower. The utility’s three wind turbines, installed last July on Pillar Mountain, have already cut diesel fuel use in half by more than 900,000 gallons. That’s saved the utility more than $2.3 million (at the going rate of $2.60 a gallon for diesel), and the $21.4 million project will pay even higher dividends in the future as the price of diesel rises.
Wind is far from the only renewable resource. Chena Hot Springs Resort near Fairbanks is tapping geothermal power to provide heat and electricity for its facilities, including a year-round greenhouse and ice museum. Last year, the Juneau airport installed a ground-source heat pump system to heat the airport’s facilities by tapping into the relatively constant temperature underground. Geothermal exploration is also ongoing at Mount Spurr, 80 miles west of Anchorage, for a project that could potentially provide up to 16 percent of the Railbelt’s daily electric needs.
Hydropower is also a mainstay in Alaska, generating 24 percent of the state’s electricity.
Other clean energy technologies are emerging in Alaska, with the state becoming a recognized test bed for new ways to generate power. Ocean Renewable Power Company is on track to install a test turbine in 2012 in Cook Inlet, for example. There are also projects under way to tap heat from Resurrection Bay to heat the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward; use in-river turbines to generate power from the Yukon and Nenana rivers; and to use methane gas produced by cold-loving bacteria from tundra lakes (psychrophiles) to generate electricity.
Alaska can be a leader in clean energy. We have both the resources and the motivation with communities that pay some of the highest energy prices in the country. Oil and gas will be a necessary part of the energy mix for years to come. But by diversifying now with wind, hydro, geothermal and other renewable resources, we can provide Alaska with long-term stability in energy prices and insulate ourselves against the inevitable spikes in fossil fuel prices for years to come.
Stephanie Nowers is communications director for the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), a nonprofit education and advocacy group dedicated to increasing the development of renewable energy in Alaska. REAP is holding the upcoming Aug. 7 Alaska Renewable Energy Fair, a free event from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on the Anchorage Park Strip that features live music, crafts, food, renewable energy demonstrations and workshops on renewable energy and energy efficiency.