Let’s Keep Alaska Cool — The Southeast Alaska Climate Report September 2022

Written by Matt Jackson

September 6, 2022

It’s good to be back at this newsletter! And it is a good time to be a climate activist. Why? Well, the Greenland Ice Sheet is going to contribute at least 10  inches toward rising sea levels globally, even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, so it’s a good time to be a climate activist in the sense that there’s a lot of work to do.

But it is also a good time to be a climate activist in that we are winning, and after decades of hard work, scientific research, public education, and fighting back against willful misinformation, we are starting to tip the scales. The rest of this newsletter is going to be dedicated to how we’re going to keep winning for the next few months.

Mary Peltola Wins the Special Election
SEACC is a nonpartisan organization, but it’s safe to say that Mary Peltola, while still crosswise with SEACC positions on a number of important issues, is the only candidate in the race to take climate change remotely seriously. Her election win gives Alaskans, for the first time, a representative in the House who will listen to our climate concerns with compassion, and SEACC will be reaching out to her office to advocate for climate-smart policies on the Tongass as soon as she’s sworn into office.

Alaska State Policies
The fact that the Alaskan electorate voted Peltola into office is a very good sign for a campaign that SEACC has been brewing for several months. The fact of the matter is that Alaskans want climate smart energy policies that are going to reduce emissions and utility bills, and there are three politically feasible policies that we could enact in the very next state legislature to do exactly that here in Southeast: extending the Renewable Energy Fund (REF), establishing a Green Bank, and fixing the Power Cost Equalization (PCE).

Driving these three policies is going to be the centerpiece of my climate campaign for the next nine months. The first step is to find co-sponsors for the REF and Green Bank for the new session, and I’ve made easy action pages to urge Senator Bert Stedman to do exactly that. So read on and take action!

  • Extend the REF to keep powering Alaska’s next economy: Since 2008, the REF has invested $282 million in renewable energy infrastructure for Alaska’s nonprofit utilities, resulting in 95+ operational projects and $158M in matching funds. But the REF is due to expire in 2023 without a legislative extension. The legislature needs to extend this critical program for another ten years and increase REF’s appropriation, so it can invest at the scale our communities need.
  • Establish a Green Bank to finance clean energy: Green Banks fund things like heat pump programs and electric car charger systems that are good for our wallets and good for Alaska. A green bank bill was introduced by the governor in 2022.  But it proposed putting the Green Bank within Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a controversial state agency that focuses on heavy industries and exports. Placing the Green Bank in a community-oriented agency like the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation would put it, and Alaskans, on the path to success.
  • Fix the PCE: PCE is a critical and necessary support for rural communities that have relied on diesel for power but it has an unintended consequence that punishes utilities for switching to renewables. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) has set the PCE formula to effectively compensate rural utilities for the money they spend on diesel. But often when utilities switch to renewables, although they save some money, the savings are smaller than the PCE subsidy they used to receive — leading to higher bills and encouraging reliance on PCE instead of developing energy independence.  The answer: work with rural communities that rely on PCE to agree on a new formula, either through the RCA or the legislature.

There are a few other state policies like community solar legislation and enacting a Renewable Portfolio Standard for the Railbelt, that SEACC will be supporting through the Alaska Climate Alliance, but these three will be the centerpiece of our Keep Alaska Cool campaign, and together these policies position Alaska’s economy and communities to thrive through the energy transition.

More on the Inflation Reduction Act
Let’s repeat the top takeaways from the IRA — a 40% reduction in U.S. emissions by 2030 (or 4.5 BILLION tons of CO2), and 9 million new jobs created, paid for by a tax on Fortune 500 companies and stock buybacks. Over the next few weeks, I will be meeting with rural electric cooperatives and village corporations to provide technical assistance on how to implement the provisions in this new law to help finance projects like Thayer Lake that are going to achieve that magical duo — reducing costs and reducing emissions.

In exchange, we have to deal with obnoxious oil and gas lease requirements, including a mandatory offering in Cook Inlet. As we learned earlier this year, an offering is not the same thing as a sale, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be snoozing on these threats. Another trade-off is a 10% tax incentive for certain critical minerals that make very problematic mines like the Palmer Project potentially more profitable and therefore likely to be developed. 

While in the grand scheme of things I think the IRA is a very good deal overall, we will have to stand stronger than ever with our neighbors on the front lines of oil, gas, and mineral extraction, so I hope you’ll take a second to stand with our Cherish the Chilkat campaign by visiting our Chilkat Action page

SEACC’s Chilkat work is always fast evolving and there are several options for learning more and taking action, but as of this writing, urging the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to strengthen the public process is the single best thing you could do for the Chilkat in just a few minutes!

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