Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kodiak Turns out to Testify to AK Senate Energy Committee

Many thanks to the Kodiak Daily Mirror and writer Bradley Zink for good coverage!

By 5:30 p.m., the senators were back in town at the Borough Chambers to hear testimony from locals about problems and possible solutions to Alaska’s energy woes. The session lasted slightly more than an hour.

Borough Mayor Jerome Selby spoke first, speaking in favor of retrofitting public facilities with updated equipment. He specifically mentioned Kodiak High School and said better equipment in public facilities would be more energy efficient and fuel-efficient.

“(Retrofitting) public buildings is a little bit daunting, in terms of costs,” Selby said. “But we would think that our view is that would be kind of another piece of improving energy use and efficiency in the state of Alaska.

“It’s not only the (energy) generation side, but how we get more efficient equipment and maybe bring down the costs and the amount that we use. More generation from renewables brings down how much we have to use – the combination of that, I think somewhere in there, lies the best formula for Alaska.”

Laine Welch, syndicated columnist on fisheries issues, urged the senators to reconsider developing the Chuitna coal mine, approximately 45 miles west of Anchorage in the Upper Cook Inlet. She said taking coal from the area would hamper traditional setnet sites with eminent domain and negatively affect fish habitats.

“Every bit of this coal, which is the largest source of greenhouse gases, every bit of it is going to Asia,” Welch said. “It’ll be burned in Asia and come back in the form of carbon dioxide, which will be dumped into the Pacific Ocean.

“The chemistry doesn’t lie: The cold waters of the Bering Sea and the Pacific, and our waters, are already showing the signs of ocean acidification. We would be getting back this tradeoff in the Upper Cook Inlet for this strip coal mine in methyl mercury in our waters.”

When told the coal at Chuitna is low-sulfur and would replace higher-sulfur coal, she said that still would make no difference in her opinion.

Welch also commented on algae biofuels, which promise energy efficiency and produce lower emissions. She also mentioned the “right to dry” movement that advocates the use of clotheslines instead of electric or gas dryers. She said in some places in the U.S. clotheslines are banned, so people have no choice but to use a dryer. If this were remedied the country could lower by a few percentage points the output of carbon dioxide that is contributing to global warming.

“Since the 1970s, clotheslines have been banned by development restrictions in most of the United States … I know sometimes (using clotheslines) it’s not possible or practical,” Welch said. “Just keep in mind that with today’s kids, we have two generations of kids that don’t even know the smell of line-dried laundry.”

Donna Jones, of Sustainable Kodiak, mentioned University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Rich Seifert, who presented earlier this summer at a local meeting the idea of investing some Permanent Fund Dividend money toward making permanent statewide infrastructure changes for sustainable energy.

Jones also said the Legislature should expand the energy efficiency rebate program for homes, possibly extending it for nonprofits, public buildings, businesses and apartment buildings. She suggested a smaller state rebate option for those who can’t do their whole house, because retrofitting everything is difficult and expensive.

“If you have just a small (rebate), people would get started,” Jones said. “And once people get started, it’s like eating cookies — you don’t want to stop. They start to see that they’re saving money. I suggest a small cookie rebate.”

Jones also said, “Super insulation is a really good choice, especially for some of those remote villages where they’re having to fly in (heating) oil. That’s crazy, and it’s also expensive and a hardship on those people. It would pay off many times by permanently reducing these oil costs.”

Jones commented on protecting Alaska’s already limited amounts of farm and ranch land.

“Alaska is at the end of the supply chain for the United States,” Jones said. “We’re really far away. We need to keep some of this food-growing farmland available.”

Rod and Laurie Murdock testified, urging the use of more energy-efficient “gadgets” for offices, which has saved them money, and more recycling, bicycle and mass transit usage, and driving less — all to reduce the amount of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emissions.

They said they were concerned about Kodiak’s current lack of a public mass-transit bus system.

Realtor and former Kodiak Mayor Bob Brodie also suggested expanding the energy-rebate program to apartment buildings, making the option available to lower-income residents who typically rent and do not own homes.

Kodiak Island Borough Assemblywoman Judy Fulp stressed the importance of energy-saving ideas in Alaska.

“I think besides oil development, fishing and tourism, this is the most important thing we can do in the state,” Fulp said.

Switgard Duesterloh, a fisheries biologist in Kodiak also involved with expanding science education in Kodiak schools, testified on ocean acidification caused by increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. She said America is using higher rates of fossil fuels compared to other industrialized nations and urged more small energy-efficient costsaving measures to solve problems, even one streetlight using solar energy.

“We need to stop using fossil fuels that haven’t been used yet,” Duesterloh said. “What I mean by that is the whole problem of the increased (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere comes from us digging up fossil fuels that have been deposited for a long, long time by nature and were not meant to be in the cycle. We disrupted the cycle of life by bringing up these fossil fuels.”

Duesterloh suggested using bio-fuels, calling them a better long-term solution by not increasing carbon dioxide. She mentioned a project that turns plastics into diesel fuels.

Stosh Anderson, a commercial fisherman and KEA board member, urged the use of electric vehicles.

“I foresee that with the battery technology going to improve that we’re going to have ongoing electric vehicles in this state,” Anderson said. “What that means is the utilities for both space heating and electric vehicles are going to have an increased demand, and that demand means we’re going to have a capital investment.”

Pat Holmes testified on the need not to disregard Alaska’s numerous small and remote villages, primarily with Alaska Natives. He said legislators should see their difficult conditions first-hand in the winter.

“In your respect, you’re coming here in September. That’s a nice thing to do, but it’s a whole lot different out in Perryville or Atka or Quinhagak in January,” Holmes said. “I’d like you to reflect in your statewide approach to not forget the Bush because it’s a very integral part of our state and our nation as far as resource production. And, the folks that live there are darn special.”

He said the home energy audits needed to receive the energy rebates should be available to residents of villages, too.

“How do you get somebody to do an energy audit if you live in Karluk or Akhiok or Perryville? Pretty darn hard,” Holmes said.
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Thanks to all who attended and to all who spoke!

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