Sun and Wind. When we hear people say that solar and wind are new and variable energy sources, it calls into question their understanding of historical facts. The sun reportedly has been pumping energy out for 4.5 Billion years. The wind got started on Earth probably at around the same time as the Earth came to have air molecules to move, not long after it came together as a planet, also approximately 4.5 Billion years ago.
There is often an argument that the only reliable energy source is from fossil fuels. The next time some old duffer starts going on about fossil fuel reliability, you just tell them “hooey” - their vaunted fuels are just experimental in the grand scheme of things - the most mature fossil fuels are from a period a mere 419 million years ago. That is barely a blip compared to the reign of solar and wind energy. It makes sense that humankind plans to return rapidly to solar and wind energy after dabbling in strange, experimental energy like fossil fuel. Our sun and wind are ancestral, time-tested, ancient power sources, and people like a sure thing.
The cost to harness the oldest and best energy is falling by the day. Check out any graph comparing the cost of new solar installations with the price of natural gas and coal power generation. The price of solar energy has dropped precipitously over the past decade. Combine this with a federal infrastructure funding package that prioritizes renewable investments and sweetens the pot with tax incentives. Combine this again with a moral case for energy sources that don’t emit greenhouse gasses, and you have a recipe for change. Perhaps not as quick as some would want, or that is sufficient to save us from climate disruption, but a fundamental change.
Right here in Alaska, not only in one, but now in two legislative sessions, legislation has been introduced to force/mandate/require electric utilities to get free from high-cost fossil fuels and switch to 80% renewable sources for generating electricity by the year 2040. There is obviously a belief that electric utilities can achieve this goal, or else the bills would not have been introduced at all, much less receive hearings. Utilities are setting internal goals; for instance, the Homer Electric Association has a board policy that calls for 50% renewable electricity by 2025 - based on the State of Alaska’s own aspirational policy goal.
On Thursday, House Bill 121 had an introductory hearing in the House Special Committee on Energy. This bill would establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for Alaska’s utilities and drive investment in lower-cost renewable energy. As a Cook Inlet natural gas supply shortage and corresponding sharp energy price increases are looming on the horizon, it is high time our utilities act to incorporate more and more and more wind and solar, and battery storage. That is another reason why RPS legislation is getting airplay this year. Even the most stalwart fossil fuel devotee must face the fact that something has to give. If utilities do not diversify into renewable energy, and the state has to import liquified natural gas, the cost to consumers will skyrocket from a place that seems already pretty high. The economy will suffer, homeowners will suffer, business overhead costs and government operating costs will increase, and heads will roll. You get the picture.
The committee heard testimony from Hawaiʻi State Energy Office on the 50th state’s RPS and its transition away from imported fossil fuels. Price volatility in imported fuel drove consumer sentiment in Hawaiʻi toward a successful energy transition. Alaska and Hawaiʻi are related in their remoteness, the timing of their statehood battles, their otherness, and the fact that half of Alaska vacations in Hawaiʻi - these states have a ton in common, not to mention sun and wind. Ours is a different sun and a different wind but just as mighty and ancient. If Hawaiʻi can go renewable, there is no doubt that Alaska can follow suit.
Another hearing or two on HB 121 should be held this session. The bill has a good chance of passing next year with your support. Stay tuned, but first, get out in that spring sun and feel the 4.5 Billion years of past, present, and future awesomeness on your unique and very special face.
The Alaska Center
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