By ALEX GIMARC
This is the final in my series on Chugach Electric Association’s new dalliance with renewable energy. The second piece discussed solar energy in the Railbelt. Earlier, I discussed wind energy in the Railbelt. Today, we will look at the legislative foundation for pursuit of renewables in Alaska.
The 2010 legislative session was among the most forward-looking sessions from an energy standpoint in decades. There was legislation on renewables, nuclear energy, natural gas and hydroelectric generation. The two most important from a renewables standpoint were SB 220, which set up the renewable energy fund, and HB 306 which set non-binding efficiency and renewable generation goals for Alaska.
The most important of these are the legislative goals in HB 306. Think of them as the crack cocaine or fentanyl of the renewable energy world and you have a small idea how toxic to our pocketbooks these goals are.
The goals adopted in 2010 are a 15% increase in energy efficiency per capita between 2010 – 2020 and 50% of electric generation from renewable and alternative energy sources by 2025. We are not close to achieving either goal, with the Railbelt sitting at 20% renewable generation as of 2020.
The renewable energy goals specified 13 years ago in HB 306 were wildly popular, mostly because they were completely toothless, allowing all the Usual Suspects and enablers to virtue signal in support of their personal definitions of a cleaner environment. Like most renewable energy goals, the actual goal was pulled out of thin air, is a nice round number at 50%, and promulgated without a single word about costs before, during and after migration. There was (and still is) no discussion of instability introduced into the electric grid by adoption of the 50% renewable goal.
We are in the next big push to renewables, led by the Biden Administration, among others, for 80% of all electrical generation nationwide by 2040.
As of 2020, 30 states have already signed up. Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) for an analysis last year, suggesting pathways to that goal in Alaska.
NREL responded with five increasingly fanciful solutions, all of which assumed storage, which is never included in any renewable proposal. Among other assumptions, NREL assumed wind and solar based on already installed generation. They assumed 25 megawatts of in-stream hydro in central Alaska, 75 megawatts of tidal in Cook Inlet, 50 megawatts of geothermal at Mount Spurr, 50 megawatts of biomass — all operational by 2040. They all considered at least three battery (storage) options ranging 46 – 70 megawatts at Golden Valley Electric Association, Homer, and Central (Anchorage). Watana hydro was considered in Scenario 1. Nuclear was never considered nor mentioned.
Gov. Dunleavy was in front of this last year, introducing HB 301 and SB 179. While neither bill made it through the legislative process, both were reintroduced this year, by Sen. Loki Tobin (SB 101) and Rep. Jesse Sumner (HB 121). Sumner ought to know better. Frankly, so should the governor.
One of the advantages we here in Alaska have in this move to the Brave New World of complete reliance on renewable energy is watching the experience of other states and nations who were early adopters. We’ve seen spiking energy prices, rolling blackouts, and out-and-out grid failure in California and Texas. We’ve watched spiking electricity prices and deindustrialization in most of western Europe.
One of the more interesting responses came from Sweden in July, which ditched its 100% renewable energy goal in favor of 100% fossil free. They determined that 100% renewable would require magical thinking, “Unobtanium.” A fossil-fuel-free future in Sweden means they will pursue their goals via nuclear and hydro generation. Perhaps we ought to pay attention to them.
If we want to go carbon free, for whatever reason, great. There are affordable ways to get from here to there, ways that ensure the lights stay on, and the grid remains stable. Renewables are not on that path. Whatever we do, costs and storage must be considered rather than believing the vague claims we regularly get from all the usual rent-seeking suspects in the renewables advocacy industry, legislative democrats, and even the governor’s office itself.
In many ways, renewables and the various portfolio goals are word thinking, magic words and incantations, all promising a painless journey to our sparkling, environmentally friendly future. As usual, the road to very hot places are paved with good intentions, something we will hear a lot about in the upcoming legislative session.
Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.