Independent power producers air grievances at legislative roundtable 

By Suzanna Caldwell | The Alaska Dispatch:

A battle quietly — though contentiously — has been brewing among electrical producers in Alaska.

On one side are independent power producers, a group with wildly different entities sharing one goal: To privately produce power, usually renewable power, either for themselves or to sell to utilities.

On the other side are the electric utilities, who ultimately are beholden to their customers, and are constantly looking to produce and sell power at the cheapest rates possible.

And for both sides, there’s the state of Alaska’s energy policy, which in 2009 set a goal of having 50 percent of the state’s power come from renewable projects by 2025.

Almost five years since that goal was set, state Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, is looking back to see if Alaska is on its way — and what can be done to move toward the goal. On Tuesday she brought together the independent power producers and a handful of other legislators to figure out the challenges facing independent power producers and what, if anything, can be done at the state level to encourage them. Today, about 21 percent of all Alaska energy comes from renewables, mostly hydropower projects.

According to numbers from Department of Energy, Alaska ranks last in terms of power produced by independent power producers. In the Lower 48, about 38 percent of all power comes from independent producers. In Alaska, that number is around 3 percent — mostly through Fire Island Wind, the CIRI subsidiary that sells wind power to Chugach Electric in Southcentral Alaska.

McGuire got an earful. Independents say the reasons why more hasn’t been done are complicated, but it comes down to this: Utilities don’t want to play nice when it comes to negotiations.

“We just want a fair playing field,” said Duff Mitchell, executive director of the Alaska Independent Power Producers Association. “We have a policy that says 50 percent renewables. We shouldn’t be kicking and fighting those.”

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