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Renewable Energy Alaska Project: Creating a Secure, Stable, Sustainable Energy Landscape

Chris Rose formed the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) in 2004 to prove that Alaska can – and should – become a leader in the rapid development of renewable energy resources. REAP works toward this goal by creating a community of like-minded organizations in both the public and private sectors, which have united to organize educational programs, training opportunities and advocacy initiatives. Along the way REAP continues to prove that renewable energy resource development and energy-efficiency retrofits can be an economic engine for Alaskans across the state.

REAP believes local renewable energy resources are particularly well-positioned for success in Alaska given the state’s sparsely populated landscape, where roads connect only a handful of communities. Most isolated communities rely on diesel fuel for power generation, which puts the communities at risk not only because of diesel’s volatile price, but also because the more remote the community the farther the diesel must be transported. If global diesel prices spike, communities could be left out in the cold despite the fact that Alaska produces the third largest amount of oil in the United States. The town of Ruby, Alaska, for example, pays up to $1 per kilowatt-hour of electricity whereas the national average cost was just $0.11 per kilowatt-hour in 2008.

“Alaska has over 200 standalone electrical micro grids, and we believe that renewable energy sources will make electricity more secure and stabilize prices,” says Rose, executive director and founder of REAP. REAP’s membership includes over 80 entities that represent a mix of electric utilities, consumer and environmental groups, Alaska Native corporations, as well as private businesses like the Chena Hot Springs Resort, just north of Fairbanks.

Renewable Energy Experts

REAP’s broad membership stands as a testament that a more reliable electrical supply would benefit all Alaskans. To that end, REAP hosts a variety of educational events throughout the year to generate a greater awareness of the impact renewable energy could have on Alaska’s economy. “We’re really becoming a source of information, but we also want to provide key networking opportunities for everyone’s voice to be heard,” adds Rose.

REAP’s annual flagship events include the Alaska Renewable Energy Fair and the Business of Clean Energy in Alaska conference. The Renewable Energy Fair is part state fair and part educational symposium where attendees can take in live music, pick up crafts from local vendors and indulge in local food and beer. Meanwhile, visitors can learn more about clean energy through workshops updating project progress across the state, energy efficiency in the home, electric vehicles and even composting and biodiesel production.

In contrast, the Business of Clean Energy in Alaska Conference provides a professional forum for public and private entities to share information and strategize for a sustainable energy future in Alaska. Attendees come from across the state, across the country and occasionally around the world to take part in two days of panel discussions and seminars presented by leading renewable energy experts, policymakers, researchers, businesses and tribal organizations. Hunter Lovins, director of Natural Capitalism Solutions, and Dr. Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Lab, have both presented at past conferences.

An Eco-engine of the Economy

REAP successfully built enough momentum to pass legislation that supports a diversified and sustainable energy future for the state. “In 2008 we were successful in getting a bill passed to create the Renewable Energy Grant Fund, which so far has distributed over $200 million to fund renewable energy projects,” says Rose proudly. So far 21 projects have been completed, with some making headlines for shaving off $0.27 per kilowatt-hour the price of electricity, as was the case with Gustavus Hydro’s project. By the end of 2016 the projects are expected to displace up to 11.6 million gallons of fuel per year, prompting the state legislature to extend the program by 10 years through 2023.

The effects of these projects have been particularly visible in rural areas, but more densely populated communities along the Railbelt have also benefitted. The Renewable Energy Grant Fund channeled $2 million towards the installation of a landfill-gas-to-electric generator at Anchorage Solid Waste, which was put into operation in August 2012. The $26 million plant not only supplements Anchorage’s energy supply, but sale of the energy is expected to generate $51 million for the municipality while saving rate payers $32 million in electricity costs over a 20-year period.

REAP tasted success again in 2010 when Alaska Governor Sean Parnell signed House Bill 306 and Senate Bill 220. “House Bill 306 set a goal that per capita energy consumption be reduced by 15 percent by 2020,” explains Rose. “It also sets a goal that half of Alaska’s electricity will come from renewable resources by 2025.”

Shaping Alaska’s Energy Future

Senate Bill 220 likewise worked toward a sustainable energy future by establishing the Emerging Energy Technology Fund, which aims to spur rapid development of emerging technologies, including hydrokinetic energy technologies for wave and tidal power generation. The bill also mandates that 25 percent of the state’s public buildings be retrofitted for greater energy efficiency by 2020. The retrofits will be financed through a $250 million revolving loan fund administered by The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

The passage of Senate Bill 25 in 2012 created another $125 million revolving loan fund that will help private commercial buildings pursue energy retrofit projects as well. “In the next year we’ll also be looking to support legislation that would establish a statewide energy building standard for new construction in Alaska,” says Rose. REAP efforts to establish energy-efficiency benchmarks would further ensure the retrofit funds support tangible, ambitious energy-efficiency goals in the long term.

Neither Rose nor REAP have any plans on slowing down anytime soon, either. REAP is just now seeing progress on some of the first megawatt-scale projects in the state, including wind turbine installations on Fire Island and at Eva Creek. Those two projects alone will quadruple the state’s total wind energy capacity in 2012.

Governor Parnell appointed a new Deputy Director of Statewide Energy Policy Development within the Alaska Energy Authority, which Rose hopes will help coordinate the milieu of sustainable energy policy programs signed into law since 2008. In the meantime, Renewable Energy Alaska Project will continue to work toward a more secure, stable and sustainable energy landscape for Alaska.