Parnell reaches toward energy fund 

By Christopher Eshleman of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: The state would empty its Railbelt Energy Fund to prepare for a dam on the Susitna River.

Gov. Sean Parnell last month rolled out a $65.7 million line item for the project, part of his annual budget proposal. He said it would aid planning, design and permitting. That figure is precisely the amount sitting in the special energy fund (as of Dec. 1). Karen Rehfeld, who directs the state’s budget office, confirmed Thursday that it’s no coincidence — the state would use the energy fund’s balance for the Susitna project.

The fund basically amounts to space set aside within the state’s larger general fund, tagged solely for energy projects along the “railbelt” region — the road system from Fairbanks to Homer and including Anchorage. The Legislature created the fund in the 1980s and holds the strings. It has subsidized projects including the “northern intertie” transmission line between Fairbanks and Healy, a project Golden Valley Electric Association has said saves about $2 million a year because less power is lost in transmission.

But utilities have also jostled over allowances from the fund for sometimes-competing projects. Parnell’s Susitna proposal coincides with an announced joint venture by five of the six railbelt utilities including Golden Valley Electric. Directors have said the venture, dubbed ARCTEC, would let them finance larger projects than could be done individually.

Parnell said in Anchorage last month his Susitna plan, barring objection by the Legislature, would help the state “move aggressively to tap the vast energy potential of our waters and other renewables” and, in the process, lower long-term energy costs. He also proposed funding for renewable energy grants, a new Southeast Alaska-specific energy fund, and money for energy-efficiency programs.
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