REAP’s advocacy has been instrumental in advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency in Alaska. REAP played a key role the creation of both the state’s Renewable Energy Fund (REF) and Emerging Energy Technology Fund (EETF). In addition, REAP helped successfully persuade policy makers to appropriate more than $900 million to fund those programs, as well as the state’s home energy efficiency programs.
Today REAP’s advocacy is focused on how Alaska will finance future clean energy projects and how the Railbelt utilities will organize themselves in a more efficient manner.
A Green Bank for Alaska
In June 2014, world oil prices collapsed and have not gone back up appreciably since then. Because Alaska is so dependent on oil revenues to fund state government, the state’s ability to grant fund clean energy programs and projects has effectively ended, with no significant state appropriations for clean energy since 2015.
Other states have determined that leveraging private investment through what are known as “Green Banks” can lead to even faster clean energy growth than state-funded grant programs. Since late 2016, REAP has been educating policy and business leaders about how Green Banks work, including testimony in front of the state legislature. REAP has been consulting with the chief investment officer of the highly successful Connecticut Green Bank, and he has visited Alaska twice in 2017. REAP’s goal is to continue to build enough support to see legislation introduced in 2018 to establish a Green Bank for Alaska. For more detailed information on how Green Banks work, read this white paper from the Coalition for Green Capital.
An Independent System Operator for Alaska’s Railbelt
Between Homer and Fairbanks there are six utilities that distribute electricity to customers in what Alaskans call the “Railbelt.” Five of those utilities also own and operate generation, and all six, plus the state of Alaska, own parts of the transmission system.
In order to more efficiently plan for new generation and transmission assets in the Railbelt, and to ensure a level playing field for renewable energy generators, REAP has been advocating for a region-wide “independent system operator” (ISO) to lead planning efforts, enforce relaibilty standards and shape a predictable and transparent Railbelt electricity market that will increase renewable energy investments in the most populated region of the state.
In 2015, REAP helped get a bill introduced to create an ISO, and later that same year the Regulatory Commission of Alaska sent a letter to the legislature outlining findings and recommendations for the Railbelt grid. This led to an announcement in early 2017 by the three Anchorage serving utilities that they are forming a “tight power pool” among themselves to more efficiently generate and distribute electricity. However, that power pool does not include all six Railbelt utilities, and it stops short of addressing the issues of long-range planning and market development that REAP believes are essential for more renewable energy development. REAP is currently in the process of planning a public forum on the issue in September, and the RCA is also holding a public meeting addressing the topic on August 9th. For more information on why REAP is working to establish a system operator for the Railbelt, see our white paper on the subject.
The Renewable Energy Fund was established by the legislature in 2008 by a unanimous vote to issue grants for renewable energy prjects across the state. Since that time, hundreds of grants have been awarded to communities and utilities to look at the feasibility of potential developments, and to design and construct projects. Between 2008 and 2015, the state legislature appropriated more than $250 million for REF grants that leveraged another $140 million in private and federal funds. During this time, Alaska was investing more per capita in renewable energy than any other state in the nation. The Alaska Energy Authority, which administers both the REF and Emerging Energy Technology Fund, estimates that the 60+ projects so far constructed in whole or in part with REF funds are saving the equivalent of 30 million gallons of diesel fuel every year.
The Emerging Energy Technology Fund was created by the Legislature in 2010 after REAP and other entities pointed out the need to create a separate grant program that would incentivize new technologies that were not yet commercially viable. This includes technologies to harness Alaska’s vast tidal, wave and other hydrokinetic resources. The EETF has also supported work on a variety of heat pump and energy storage technologies.
REAP has also been a strong advocate for energy efficiency over the years. Between 2008 and 2015 the state legislature appropriated more than $600 million to fund the state’s low-income weatherization and home energy efficiency rebate programs. Those programs have helped more than 40,000 Alaskan homes become more energy efficient. Today, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation estimates those improvements are saving the equivalent of 25 million gallons of heating oil every year.
In 2017, REAP’s advocacy helped pass legislation that now authorizes municipalities across Alaska to set up Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs to finance energy improvement on commercial buildings. Under a PACE program, commercial building owners are able to borrow money from their local property taxing authority and then pay the municipality back through a special tax basement on the building. This type of financing tool attaches the debt to the property, and not the building owner that borrows the money. It also typically gives the borrower more time to repay the loan than a commercial loan would, allowing the annual energy savings from the building improvements to immediately exceed the special tax assessment payments. REAP is now working with the Alaska Energy Authority, PACE experts from around the nation and several interested municipalities to develop PACE programs that those municipal assemblies can adopt.