As heating oil costs continue to rise nationwide, many are turning to energy alternatives for the future. And in Southeast Alaska it’s no different. Back in March the Alaska Energy Authority was tasked by legislature to conduct a regional integrated resource energy plan for Southeast Alaska.

Since then the group has been doing extensive public outreach to find out what exactly the energy needs are throughout the region. On Monday August 15th members of the Alaska Energy Authority, Southeast Conference, Haa Aani, and Wrangell Power and Light met at the Nolan Center in Wrangell to begin discussing Wrangell’s energy needs, and how they fit into a larger regional picture.

James Strandberg is with the Alaska Energy Authority and is the project manager for the Southeast Alaska IRP. Strandberg says it’s crucial for Alaskans to begin thinking about their future energy needs.

“The Alaska Energy Authority is a part of the Department of Commerce and Economic Development. And we are deeply cognoscente of the census predictions for the loss of population and the difficulties that the entire region is experiencing in resources extraction. We see that energy infrastructure projects that lower the cost of power for high cost power can later be an important part of economic development,” he says.

Some of the ideas the authority is looking at include renewable energy projects, hydro projects, wind and geothermal projects and establishing transmission lines to provide hydro power to SE communities. Ernie Christen is a business owner in Wrangell and is the president of the Alaska-Canada Energy Coalition. He says he supports the development of new renewable energy projects, and one of those being the possibility of an Alaska-British Columbia transmission intertie, which he says would be both efficient and good for the economy.

“If we’re looking at a hydro facility or a transmission maintenance operation, you can be an apprentice; you can be a line man, all well paying jobs. That’s the overall objective, we’re trying to create a new industry in Southeast, which is generation, transmission, then maintenance, and potentially provide low cost energy to any industrial complex that might come along,” he says.

But some energy alternatives are already in motion in Alaska. Nathan Soboleff is the renewable energy program manager for the SeAlaska Corporation Haa Aani Subsidiary. He says for nearly a year the SeAlaska facility in Juneau has been using a wood pellet boiler heating system, which he says has cut costs dramatically from the previous heating oil costs.

“The reality is that wood pellets are environmentally friendly and they can be produced locally. We can be fully self sufficient in our heating needs, rather than having to import heating oil or propane to heat facilities, and it’s another product that existing fuel companies and boiler companies can sell,” he says.

Kevin Harper works for Black & Veatch, a corporation specializing in infrastructure development in energy. Harper says by visiting communities throughout Southeast he hopes to create a comprehensive regional plan.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned throughout the country and throughout the world in terms of energy efficiency. You can leap frog in moving these projects forward, but developing the right delivery mechanism, something more akin to a regional solution as opposed to having each community develop its own capabilities may prove to be a more effective way to deliver a significant amount of energy efficiency to the region,” he says.

The Energy Authority plans to continue visiting communities around Southeast Alaska to develop the IRP. The next meeting will be in Ketchikan in September. For more information on the Energy Authority and the integrated resource plan you can visit www.AKEnergyAuthority.org.
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