February 6, 2012

Alaska Legislators mull $500 million renewable energy fund extension

Since its inception in 2009, Alaska's Renewable Energy Fund has funneled tens of millions of dollars to renewable energy projects across Alaska. To date, 21 projects have been completed and, with the projects in the pipeline, it is estimated that projects funded by the program could save Alaskans 11.6 million gallons of fuel per year in 2016.
Sponsored by Reps. Thomas, Peggy Wilson, and Millett with Austerman, Edgmon, Herron, Miller and Peterson, House Bill 250 seeks to extend the fund, at $50 million annually, under the management of the Alaska Energy Authority to 2023. The fund is currently set to fold in 2013. Passing the bill this year would allow AEA to continue to manage the fund and renewable energy developers could count on funds to continue to flow uninterrupted.

To identify ways to increase efficiencies in the process used in the program, the Energy Authority has commissioned an independent evaluation by Vermont Energy Investment Company. Selected via a competitive process, Vermont is assisted by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power to provide information and recommendations.

AEA Executive Director Sara Fisher-Goad said current funding of the administration and management of the fund was adequate going forward.

Fisher-Goad said successful renewable energy infrastructure in Alaska requires planning and diverse technologies.

"No silver bullet is going to solve the rural energy problems," she said.

By 2013 the program will be displacing 3.5 million gallons annually with a total savings for the program of around $6 million, said Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency Deputy Director Peter Crimp said while testifying to the committee Tuesday.

"Substantial saving to be sure," Crimp said.

Public testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of passing the renewable energy fund extension. Supportive call-in testimony came from Chris Rose, executive director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, Gene Therriault, vice president of resource development of the Golden Valley Electric Association, Clay Koplin, chief executive officer for Cordova Electric, Walter Rose, energy specialist at Kawerak Inc., Yukon River Inter-tribal Watershed Council Project Manager David Messier and Lisa Herbert, executive director of the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

Cordova Electric's Koplin said his town is now on 80 percent hydroelectric this year thanks in part to funds from the REF. Upgrades to an existing power plant reduced rates by 13 percent, Koplin said.

Koplin said extending the renewable energy fund would give other communities a chance to benefit like Cordova.

“We really have a future,” Koplin said. "And we want to extend the program so other communities can get the funds to build their futures.”

REAP's Chris Rose said extending the fund would give energy companies the assurance they need to plan well into the future.

Twenty-one projects are up and running, but the Energy Authority's selection rate for funding is fairly low. About two-thirds of the applications submitted to AEA are recommended against.

Deputy Director Crimp said 80 percent of the rejections were due to projects that were not ready to move ahead in the time frame of the original fund program.

"We were cognizant of public’s desire to make the money work in the shortest time frame,” Crimp said.

Committee substitute for House Bill 250 Version D was moved without objection. The bill, introduced on Jan. 6, is next scheduled to be heard in House Finance Committee. The Committee has yet to schedule a hearing.


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