Alaska green energy bill touts financial incentives

26/03/2010 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

JUNEAU — Lawmakers pushing a green energy bill said they’ll consider extending proposed energy efficiency loans for privately owned buildings rented on long-term bases to school districts, cities and other government entities.

The proposed loan program, part of a broader omnibus energy bill, would set up low-interest loans for improving energy efficiency at publicly owned schools and facilities.

The Finance Committee opened hearings on the bill Thursday. Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, asked the bill’s authors whether loans could be available, under conditions, for leased buildings. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage and co-sponsor of the bill, said sponsors will investigate that option.

The broader energy bill cobbles together smaller measures focused on demand and supply side energy production and efficiency issues. It would, among other things, update outlines for a Renewable Energy Fund approved in 2008.

The bill drew positive feedback Thursday from Finance Committee members and groups around the state.

“It’s time to move forward” with state energy policies, Lissa Hughes, a legislative specialist with the Fairbanks-based Northern Alaska Environmental Center, told the committee. “And the Legislature can play a key role in shaping Alaska’s energy future by passing (this bill).”

Former Fairbanks Mayor Bill Allen, now a city manager in the Matanuska Valley, told a reporter parts of the bill could help as his city explores the option of building an underground district heating system. The system would be similar to those at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and in downtown Fairbanks.

Other speakers supported the bill’s energy-efficiency and renewable components. Ross Coen, an energy specialist working with the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Fairbanks-based Alaska Center for Energy and Power, supported another part of the bill aimed at creating an “emerging-energy technology fund” to complement the larger renewable fund. Coen said a similar federal grant recently helped villages boost the efficiency of diesel generators by between 4 and 10 percent.

“When these communities are paying upward of $8 a gallon for diesel, boosting that fuel efficiency by even 4 percent results in significant cost savings,” he said.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, held the bill for more work and discussion.

Green building

Organizers roughly estimate the energy-efficiency components of the bill, dubbed the Alaska Sustainable Energy Act, would pay for its $1.3 million price tag if Alaska retrofits one-quarter of the state’s public buildings in the near future. The bill follows almost a year of work by Senate and House energy leaders.

The state Housing Finance Corp., under the bill’s energy efficiency clauses, would ready the sale of $250 million in bonds to help create an energy efficiency loan fund. Long term improvement projects, such as the installation of new boilers, would be eligible for low-interest loans as would quicker fixes, such as new lighting fixtures, through performance agreements with contractors. Borrowers would repay with money saved on electricity and heating bills.

Plans for the fund stem partly from the 2009 federal stimulus plan, which gave the state Transportation Department and the housing corporation aid money for energy-efficiency work.

A broad plan

The bill’s corners also include:

• Nuclear: The bill rewrites state oversight of proposed nuclear projects, partly by making nuclear investment eligible for aid from the state Power Project Fund;

• Business loans: The bill would allow low-interest loans for Alaskan-owned businesses for energy-efficiency construction;

• New energy technology: The Alaska Energy Authority would tap the proposed emerging-energy technology fund to issue competitive grants to innovative projects, a process co-sponsor Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, suggested might be tried as a pilot project. McGuire said the federal Department of Energy uses a similar fund.

Supporters have pointed to small-scale hydroelectric projects on the Nenana River and elsewhere as examples of proposed beneficiaries of the fund. “Give it a smaller capitalization” — than the larger renewable energy fund — “and let’s see how this thing works,” McGuire said.

A board of advisers for the fund would include renewable energy and Arctic specialists from the federal Department of Energy.

The bill is Senate Bill 220.


Entry filed under: Policy, Renewable Energy.

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