As you may have heard, Governor Sarah Palin announced an energy plan last week that includes an ambitious goal of getting 50 percent of Alaska’s power from renewables by 2025. Yesterday, she touted it in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. But is it a real goal with real policy force behind it, or just green lip service?
For now, the answer — it seems — is the latter.
You see, Palin declared the 50 by 2025 objective at a press conference to announce the state’s new report, Alaska Energy: A First Step Toward Energy Independence (PDF). The stated aim of the study is to provide local Alaskan communities with a list of available energy resources and to help them choose the cheapest options. Essentially, it’s a 254-page energy guide to Alaska, with no trace of a renewables goal anywhere. Have a look for yourself. Download the PDF, search for the "50 percent" goal and you’ll see:
No matches found.
The press release accompanying the report, however, tells a whole different story:
The plan calls for Alaskans, the Legislature, local and regional governments, the University of Alaska and the private sector to work together to ensure that by 2025 half of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources.
How to parse it?
To be fair, the study surely will be a helpful tool for localities in making energy choices. But, it is not a renewable energy plan, as is. In fact, The Juneau Empire, in an article titled "Palin Releases Energy ‘Plan’" (the paper’s quotes), reported that Palin and energy advisor Steven Haagenson "revealed that the plan isn’t actually a plan for action."
So: Now that Palin has announced the "most ambitious renewable energy goal in the nation" — as the AP has reported — can we assume that a real energy policy for Alaska is on its way? Can we assume that Palin has officially traded in the"drill, baby, drill" mantra for "jobs, baby, jobs?"
That’s the hope of Kate Troll, Executive Director of the Alaska Conservation Alliance. (See: At Schwarzenegger’s Governors Meeting, Where’s Palin?) She’s been pushing the 50 percent by 2025 target for Alaska for a long while, and told SolveClimate that she’s pleased with the governor’s announcement and extremely hopeful that Ms. Palin will see it through. One main reason for her optimism is that the governor remains committed to adding an additional $50 million into the Renewable Energy Fund despite the state’s budget woes.
However, Ms. Troll did note:
"I have yet to find the goal in the text of the AK energy plan."
Alaska is already getting 24 percent of its energy from renewables, thanks to hydroelectric power. And the 50 percent target is incredibly achievable. Ms. Troll touches on the main reasons why in an op-ed published today in the Juneau Empire:
• Alaska has 40 percent of the nation’s untapped hydropower – 256 sites with continuous power greater than 2500 kilowatts.
•The western and coastal portions of the state have world-class wind, rated "excellent" and "outstanding." Many existing, profitable wind farms in Europe are in areas rated only as "good."
• According to the Electric Power Research Institute, Alaska has 50 percent of the nation’s tidal energy potential. The Icy Strait Cross Sound area in Southeast has four sites capable of generating a composite 2500 megawatts.
• Alaska also has four distinct geothermal resource regions, with three large-scale geothermal power projects now being proposed.
• Alaska has 75 percent of the nation’s wave energy potential.
She adds, "Put it all together — a wealth of renewable resources, viable projects near population centers, state-of-the-art research at UAF, and the pioneering, can-do spirit of Alaskans — Alaska could become the Great Land for the Clean Energy Economy."
Could is the key word. For Alaska or any state to find a path to 50 percent renewable energy in 16 years time, would require not just natural resources and can-do spirit but forward-looking policies and visionary leadership on energy policy from the state’s highest office.
Given Governor Palin’s history on energy and her skepticism about man-made global warming, the state slogan from Missouri seems most in order at the moment: Show Me.
(Illustration Hat Tip: Norman Sanders)