In the recent Anchorage election, voters sent a strong message about the future they want: one that is secure, just and thriving. Climate change poses one of the greatest threats to that future, and we need leadership that will dare to tackle it head-on. Right now, Anchorage has an urgent and exciting opportunity to address this challenge and set the trend for the state of Alaska to follow.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has embraced climate change as a reality and has articulated a vision of Anchorage becoming one of the most energy-efficient cities in the nation. The Municipality of Anchorage is in the process of adopting a climate action plan that is serious about reducing harmful emissions. Our city has revised land management plans to factor in climate change impacts, worked to improve green spaces and stream buffers to help reduce damage from floods and launched programs to help residents improve access to healthy foods and affordable energy. You've probably seen or ridden the electric bus throughout Anchorage, as the city tested it in our winter conditions.
In his second term, Mayor Berkowitz should establish hard target goals for clean energy, and set benchmarks to achieve these goals. Many cities in the Lower 48 have established 100 percent clean energy goals. The City and Borough of Juneau recently adopted an aggressive plan of 80 percent clean energy by 2045. As the largest city in the state most immediately impacted by climate change, Anchorage can and should do something similar.
Setting energy targets and timelines can drive innovation and spur job creation, which we desperately need. In setting these goals, Mayor Berkowitz can also help ensure that the transition to clean energy is equitable with regard to job distribution, access to new renewable energy sources like solar and prioritizing investments in low-income neighborhoods.
In this election, Anchorage voters also supported Proposition 10, authorizing city leaders to pursue the sale of Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric Association. While it will not be easy or quick, the sale will likely increase efficiency in Southcentral Alaska, make it easier to integrate renewable energy into the grid (such as future wind and solar) and lower costs for ratepayers over time. This merged utility could serve as a model for the rest of the Railbelt.
Beyond re-electing our mayor and supporting the consolidation of utilities, Anchorage residents have demonstrated their desire for a clean energy future by initiating neighborhood-driven projects like Solarize Anchorage. And Anchorage youth, along with young Alaskans in villages and cities throughout the state, have made it abundantly clear that inaction by elected officials on climate is unacceptable. The Berkowitz administration has the support to lead, knowing the members of a broad and diverse Anchorage community will roll up our sleeves and help.
The time to lead locally is now, as our state leaders are stuck grappling with our fiscal crisis due to our over-reliance on oil, giving little airtime to fresh approaches that could move us to a brighter future.
If we act with intention, we can have an Anchorage energy policy that leads the way for a state renewable energy mandate. This kind of policy could lead to programs in major municipalities to support business-led clean energy, more energy efficiency projects by tribal, municipal and state-owned facilities that decrease diesel generation, and more renewable energy projects along the Railbelt. We could see employment in the clean energy economy increase significantly with an equitable distribution of jobs among all Alaskans.
Together, the Berkowitz administration and the Anchorage community can demonstrate that a just, economically viable, clean energy economy is not only possible but within reach for all of Alaska. Let's get to work!
By Polly Carr
Polly Carr is executive director of The Alaska Center. The Alaska Center's mission is to engage, empower and elect Alaskans to stand up for clean air and water, healthy communities and a strong democracy.
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