Leg with Louie: Where are the missing AEA projects?

Action on the state budget is happening quietly, if at all, with the thorny issue of the Permanent Fund Dividend once again asserting its ability to cause rational minds to diverge sharply. It is a fascinating debate. Likely much less fascinating if you are one of the state workers already getting emails that you will be laid off if the annual PFD stalemate pushes budget negotiations past July 1. This constant uncertainty for state workers is both a cause and symptom of illness in the body politic.

In budgets, there are values, rewards, continuities, good and bad, and disappointments. It is a great and argued-over statement of the life of the state and the directional tilt we are taking any given year. It is far more human and much less the caricature of faceless greed and squandering that some performative outrage conservatives and rage radio talk show hosts would have you believe. One of the said disappointments in this year’s budget is its silence on eleven small and crucial renewable energy projects recommended by the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) and the Renewable Energy Fund Advisory Committee.

On January 28 of this year, AEA submitted a report to the legislature on projects that were analyzed by the agency and approved by the advisory committee for funding through the state’s Renewable Energy Fund. These projects total $4.7 million and are as follows:

Cordova Hydro Storage Assessment Project; Water Supply Creek Hydro Final Design - Hoonah; Walter Northway School Wood Chip Heating System - Northway; Improved Airfoil for Wind Turbines - Kongiganak; Shungnak Heat Recovery Expansion; Goodnews Bay Wind Energy Feasibility and Conceptual Design Project; Nuyakuk River Hydroelectric Project - Dillingham; Kotlik Wind Energy Feasibility and Conceptual Design Project; Naknek Service Area Wind and Solar Power Feasibility and Conceptual Design; Kotzebue Community-Scale Energy Storage System; and City of Unalaska Wind Power Feasibility and Final Design.

Why were these projects not included as named and specific grants in the budget? Last-minute amendments pushed by the Dunleavy Administration increased the size of the budget by tens of millions on items including the controversial West-Susitna Access road, so surely $4.7 million in Renewable Energy Fund projects were not absented as a part of a broader budget-cutting effort. Why didn’t AEA lobby the legislature to have these projects included? These are questions that I ask in the event that a friendly reader of this blog might provide some insight on should they have it.

It seems like a little bit of money could go a long way toward making energy cheaper and cleaner in rural Alaska. I am told that these projects could come up again in the August special session called by the Governor to, among other items, appropriate federal relief funds. It is inside baseball for now. Perhaps there is discussion behind closed doors about moving these projects forward using federal money. Let’s hope this is possible. Even so, uncertainty for projects means delay.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s strong emphasis on clean energy and climate justice for frontline communities is a welcome start toward transforming how communities survive and thrive, considering the proven and consistent uncertainty of the values espoused in state budgets. Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan under debate this summer in Washington D.C. would, unless severely hamstrung by congress, fund transformational improvements in infrastructure, clean energy, drinking water infrastructure, broadband and home weatherization among other things.

While our state may be whirling like a top around the debate over the PFD, plans to move Alaska forward to a place of greater health and stability are underway in D.C.

Yours in hoping our future is not filibustered,

Louie Flora
Government Affairs Director

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