A state of vast, untouched nature and few people, Alaska’s identity and development have been defined by its unique geography. Roads connect only a small number of communities, and most villages are accessible only by boat or plane. This lack of infrastructure makes electrical transmission as difficult as transportation. Many rural villages depend primarily on diesel-run generators to provide their homes and businesses with electricity and on fuel oil to generate heat. Diesel must be shipped in on barges or flown in on planes, and is normally bought in bulk in the summer and stored in large tanks in the villages. When the price of oil spikes, as it did in the summer of 2008, rural Alaska’s reliance on diesel and fuel oil can be devastating.
Alaska continues to pay some of the highest prices for gas and electricity in the nation despite being the second largest producer of oil in the United States. According to the Energy Information Administration, Alaska was ranked sixth in 2008 for high electricity costs. Some areas such as Ruby, Alaska, pay up to $1.00 per kWh. In comparison, the average cost of electricity in the United States in 2008 was $0.11 per kWh.
It is clearly in the best interest of Alaskans to develop cheaper, more stable, and environmentally sustainable methods of electricity production, and the Alaskan government recently increased funding and support for renewable energy projects. In 2008, the state legislature approved the creation of the Alaska Renewable Energy Grant Fund, a grant program that will provide $300 million to qualifying renewable energy projects and renewable resource development studies over the next 5 years. The fund is supported through capital budget appropriations and is administered by the Alaska Energy Authority. These grants have gone to support a wide variety of projects including the exploration of geothermal potential in the Aleutians, photovoltaic solar-electric panels in interior villages, and the installation of wind-diesel hybrid systems on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. In 2009, the Alaska Energy Authority and the Alaska Center for Energy and Power completed a comprehensive survey of energy resources in Alaska entitled “Alaska Energy: A First Step Towards Energy independence.” This survey can act as a tool for state and local leaders to educate and engage the public in building a new comprehensive and diversified energy policy for Alaska.
As individuals, private businesses and public organizations invest more money, research, and human capacity into the development of Alaska’s renewable energy resources, we diversify our state’s energy portfolio, provide jobs for Alaskans, and stabilize the cost of living in rural and urban communities alike.
Alaska Energy Authority
Energy Information Administration
Anchorage Daily News