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Can Renewable Energy Be The Solution To Rural Alaska’s Energy Crisis?

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"Can Renewable Energy Be The Solution To Rural Alaska’s Energy Crisis?"

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by Jessica Goad

Alaska is a very important area for U.S. fossil fuel development. But, somewhat paradoxically, rural Alaska and its 250 Native villages are facing an energy crisis: Residents are forced to burn diesel for electricity; a gallon of gas sells for around $10 in some communities; and gasoline and diesel have been barged in from as far as Russia.

An event called “Challenges and Opportunities for Renewable Energy in Alaska” sponsored by the Center for American Progress and the Alaska Federation of Natives yesterday helped shed light on an extraordinarily important local solution to this energy crisis — renewable energy.

As Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), who spoke at the event, described:

…we bring a lot of people up there to see what the opportunities are.  Once they come there and they see for example a windmill working in a small remote village, and what it’s doing and lowering costs, they got it there, they’re maintaining it in very unique conditions, suddenly you get people saying “well maybe there’s something here.”  Or some of these other smaller projects.  So I think from a private investor standpoint, we are a unique opportunity from that perspective.

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Alaska has tremendous renewable energy potential.  The state’s location on the Ring of Fire provides geothermal resources, its rivers provide untapped hydropower, its oceans have over 90% of the nation’s tidal resources, its vast forests provide biomass resources, and many areas have high class wind. Dozens of projects — ranging from wind to geothermal — have already been built and have started generating power for communities.

Villages in Alaska are generally remote, and approximately 150 have stand-alone electrical grids that prevent traditional, centralized energy development. However, panelists at the event discussed how this challenge can provide opportunities — particularly when it comes to designing innovative, decentralized renewable energy technologies that could be exported to the developing world.

While there are tremendous opportunities to scaling up renewables in Alaska, there are also challenges. These include human capacity, overlapping government agencies, and a lack of incentives. As one panelist, Scott Borgerson, put it: Alaska remains one of the world’s last “emerging markets.”

So while companies start eying offshore oil resources off the coast of Alaska, perhaps they should be looking to renewables instead.

Jessica Goad is the Manager of Outreach and Public Communication for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.

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3 Responses to Can Renewable Energy Be The Solution To Rural Alaska’s Energy Crisis?

  1. fj says:

    Of course, “renewable energy” is everybody’s solution.

    Imagine what this planet’s heating bill would be like without the sun.

    Mind boggling how people get used to doing things the hard way.

  2. NJP1 says:

    It is an odd quirk of humanity that we expect our present to go on into an infinity of constant improvement.
    It rarely occurs to anyone that the resources we burn to maintain our lifestyle might be finite. Whether warmth is wanted in Alaska, or chill in Arizona, we expect a median level of comfort to be available at the flick of a switch because it has always been so, and wish-science says it always will be.
    But this is the end of the cheap-energy party folks. To get your heat or chill, you have to burn fuel, and it’s no coincidence that Alaska and Arizona have one thing in common: both were thinly populated until mankind decided that the environment needed to be altered by the release of the energy contained in oil coal and gas.
    That made the living easy, but it also allowed the population to explode way beyond what could be supported by the local environment; numbers grew and demanded ongoing comfort as well, so we had no choice but to go on burning (cheap) fuel to keep people alive.
    Which is where we’re at right now. Too many people demanding a share of too little energy which is why it’s constantly increasing in price.
    So we are faced with an interesting dilemma. The cost of energy is set to rise over coming decades, but the means to pay for it will not. In extreme climates life and death literally depends on energy availability,
    Do you want to freeze or fry?

  3. Leif says:

    The value of renewable energy is greatest to the people who have the most expensive fossil energy. i.e. The poor, under-served and remote folks.