Renewable energy deserves aggressive pursuit

CIRI and Chugach Electric finalized a deal last week to begin construction of the Railbelt’s first commercial wind farm on Fire Island, off the coast of Anchorage.  This project comes at a time when a sustainable and diversified energy portfolio is urgently needed for Southcentral utilities.

Environmentally, Alaska is ground zero for climate change. We are warming faster, and have more to lose, than any other state in the union. If we want our calls for action to be listened to nationally, we should be walking the talk on reducing carbon emissions.

But even for residents who scoff at such environmental concerns, the economic opportunities should be more than ample warrant for action. Southcentral relies upon Cook Inlet’s natural gas, which has a rapidly approaching expiration-date. Joe Griffith, GM of the Matanuska Electric Association and former CEO of Chugach Electric, warned last year that “the only guaranteed power source [for Southcentral] after 2014 was hydro.”

Even though recently announced leases for oil may yield some extra gas in Cook Inlet, its declining production and globally rising prices mean that the consistent price of renewable energy make it smart risk-management, and an increasingly cost-competitive choice.

Over the last several years, the environmental and economic sides of the case for alternative energy have been made so strongly and repeatedly that there are few public figures that haven’t given at least lip service to the idea.

Still, for people in this state that have influence over such things (which includes most everyone from Chugach members on up), they must choose between taking a passive and an aggressive approach to new energy projects.

Though the current progress on the Fire Island project would not have happened without presence of the latter among the Chugach board, CIRI and many other groups; the former has been on display frequently as well.

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Aside from ML&P’s recent low-ball bid to purchase Fire Island wind, the project has faced engineering challenges such as potential air-traffic interference, that have had many prematurely willing to admit defeat.

Perhaps this is merely a sad drop in spirit since the days of building the impossible Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It could also be that the popularity of ‘green technology’ among young environmentalists and liberal politicians has some conservative types instinctively suspicious.

But as more renewable projects move from concept to reality, electrical workers and engineers are replacing activists as the face of green technology. Southcentral has many more possible projects to decide upon as well in the near-term, from a Mt. Spurr geothermal plant to the other thirds of Fire Island. Hopefully, aggressive pursuit of renewable energy will replace the passive approach as the face of our utilities as well.