Don’t let the sun go down on the Renewable Energy Fund

The Renewable Energy Fund (REF), when passed by the AK Legislature in 2008, was one of those rare Kumbaya policies that was approved by a unanimous vote. This was at a time when the Legislature was showered by a windfall of revenue from skyrocketing oil prices (combined with a new progressive tax structure) while outside the shower curtain, constituents were holding pitchforks and shouting, beset by the highest cost gasoline in the whole United States of America. The REF intended to fund renewable energy projects to help lower the cost of living in Alaska. The fund would be capitalized annually for a five-year period to the tune of $50 million per year. 

Since its inception, the REF has proven to be an effective and important tool to get funding out on the street toward renewable energy projects. Check out the deets in this handy Quick Facts[!] sheet. The process behind project selection is insulated from political interference by the Renewable Energy Fund Advisory Committee, a body established by the REF legislation to review proposals and make recommendations to the Alaska Energy Authority, which reviews, approves, and passes the approved project along to the Legislature for approval. This helps assure the project benefits are spread out to communities statewide.   

When the Legislature passed the REF, it was for a five-year period with a “sunset” at the end. Sunsets are applied to most boards and commissions in Alaska. The reason for a sunset is to provide an incentive for the Legislature to take action within a specific time frame if they want the entity to continue. If an extension is not granted before a sunset date, whether intentionally or not, the Legislature causes the entity to go away. It can be revived from oblivion in a subsequent legislative session though creating a program is often more challenging than simply extending a termination date. In 2012 a vote was taken to extend the sunset to 2023. And here we are, looking on as the sun falls on the silhouettes of future wind energy generators across the state.  

Thankfully, lawmakers still largely approve of the REF. That is why a bill was filed last year to extend the sunset (it ran out of time before the end of the Legislature), and another bill has already been filed this year. SB 33 extends the REF to 2033. Sponsored by Anchorage Senator James Kaufman, it was introduced in January and referred to the Senate Resources and Senate Finance committees. We support this bill and encourage our readers to send a quick note to Senator Kaufman supporting the REF.  On that note, The Alaska Center and our partners in The Alaska Climate Alliance were in Juneau this week meeting with the new legislature, with REF extension as one of the top clean energy priorities.  

If the bill does not move forward, all is not lost. There are shenanigans the Legislature can pull - such as attaching the sunset extension to another piece of legislation pertaining to renewable energy. In the past, sunsets have been amended into other legislation containing sunset extensions for unrelated programs. There are lots of avenues to keep the REF going. Considering the influx of federal funding with an emphasis on a clean energy transition, it would be both practical and wise for the Legislature to renew the REF.

Hopefully, the new Majority in the House will play along, and not spend their entire tenure in control tilting at windmills like the proposed repeal of ranked-choice voting.  

Here’s to hope!

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