Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s carefully curated energy conference in Anchorage this week was loaded with contradictions and fell far short of the sustainable mark it was aiming for.
We want to applaud the regional electric cooperatives, renewable energy leaders, small businesses, policy leaders and scientists who endured three days of natural gas and nuclear energy hype to share their important experiences. We heard inspiring stories from Alaskan leaders about hydrokinetic energy projects from Igiugig to Port Mackenzie and solar projects in the Northwest Arctic Borough. We learned about innovative financial approaches to implementing renewable energy at the consumer end using rebates and on-bill financing and on the production side. And we heard loud and clear the urgent need for more support to build the clean energy infrastructure of Alaska’s future.
$16 per gallon diesel and $1 per kWh of electricity is all the evidence we need that rural Alaska’s reliance on diesel for electricity is neither tenable nor fair. While the overdue announcement of $200 million for Railbelt grid improvements is a momentous step forward, we hope similar announcements for rural improvements will soon follow. Unfortunately, those announcements and conversations were too often overshadowed by hyper-partisan natural gas marketing. Keynote speaker after keynote speaker spoke about the necessity for natural gas, as if our reliance on fossil fuels wasn’t the very thing that has brought Alaska into financial and energy crisis.
Hilcorp CEO Luke Saugier said it best when he admitted during his Day Two keynote, “You’ve got to be thinking we’ve gone off the rails at the Sustainable Energy Conference when you’re hearing from fossil fuel executives.” Indeed, the conference was off the rails. With a speaker lineup so disproportionately white, old, male and fossil fuel heavy, the conference was off the sustainability rails more often than it was on topic.
If there’s one thing we took away from the conference, it’s that our communities already know what we need — affordable, reliable renewable energy from wind, solar and salmon-friendly hydro. And we need the money to build them. We don’t have time to waste on doomed pie-in-the-sky projects like the Alaska LNG Project.
Even the many oil executives in the room acknowledged that social, environmental and economic forces are converging to end Alaska’s fossil fuel industry in the next 10-15 years.
The better we prepare for that transition, the better off we’ll be. Luckily, many shovel-ready renewable energy projects are waiting around the state to meet our need for affordable clean energy right now and for generations to come. Compared to boondoggles like the Alaska LNG Project, clean energy projects look like better investments for our state every day.
Matt Jackson is the climate organizer for Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, and Alyssa Quintyne is the interior organizer for The Alaska Center. Both attended all three days of the Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference.
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