Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: Six Questions to Alaska Congressional Candidates

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Six Questions to Alaska Congressional Candidates

I submitted six questions to all of the Progressive candidates for the Alaska At-Large Congressional seat (running against Don Young) as well as the U.S. Senate seat (running against Ted Stevens). The ones who responded were Ethan Berkowitz, Diane Benson and Mark Begich. For the next six days, I will present the answers to each of those questions from AK-AL candidates Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz first, before the Alaska Primaries.

Energy Policy: What short-term solutions do you offer towards immediate emergency gas-price relief…especially for places like Rural Alaska, Fairbanks and Juneau? What long-term solutions do you see in Alaska’s/the country’s energy future and what steps will you take to get there?

Ethan Berkowitz

A friend told me yesterday that his gas bill for a commute from the Mat-Su to Anchorage will be more than $500 a month. Every time I go to the grocery store, the cost of food goes up and up. Fairbanks has declared an energy emergency. Juneau saw prices increase five-fold when an avalanche took out its power polls. Kenai has shutdown Agrium and its good-paying jobs because they couldn’t afford to run it on Cook Inlet gas any longer. And in rural Alaska – prices will soar when the next fuel barges arrive; heating oil keeps setting record prices, in too many villages the cost for electricity pushes closer to a dollar per kilowatt hour. This is all happening as oil goes past $140 a barrel and the state is awash in a budget surplus.

The goal for energy policy is energy security and energy independence – to make sure that energy bills don’t break the budgets for Alaska families and Alaska businesses, and that high prices don’t strangle choices and opportunities.

Short-term solutions include a combination of structural changes to prices, conservation, and local energy production. In addition, we must continue funding and improve the state Power Cost Equalization (PCE) program.

Structural changes include state coordination of bulk fuel purchases, so that communities are guaranteed the lowest possible price for energy. It also includes payment of utility infrastructure debt, so that consumers won’t pay have to include interest payments as part of their fuel bills – when the state paid off the remaining $2 million on Cordova’s hydro project, it took a load off Cordova’s fuel bills.

Conservation can have an immediate impact. Juneau responded to its price jumps by cutting back on consumption, and was able to scale back power use considerably. The state put $300 million towards a weatherization program that will improve the thermal efficiency of homes across Alaska, reducing energy costs. There are a lot of options for conservation – for example, work at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center shows that we can build or retrofit structures to make them much more efficient.

Local energy production offers both short and intermediate term answer to energy costs. Every time we import a dollar’s worth of diesel, we export a dollar and export a job. It’s time to innovate, to be bold, to invest in transformative technology so that we’re never held hostage to global energy markets again. We all hope to bring North Slope gas on line (or from other sources, including Nenana Basin or Cook Inlet), or oil from new fields. We also have considerable sustainable, renewable energy sources. We could put wind power in the eighty villages that have a good resource for approximately $150 million. Cook Inlet has the largest tides in the United States, and Alaska has 90 percent of the country’s tidal potential. There are in-river hydro opportunities all around. Geothermal energy, whether small scale like Chena Hot Springs, or large scale, such as Mt. Spurr, makes great sense – the country of Iceland gets 95 percent of its power from geothermal sources. 160 communities could make use of biomass – in some areas we’re already converting wood to energy, capturing methane gas at the downs, and turning fish waste to a diesel equivalent. And, occasionally (not often enough this summer!), solar power is part of the energy mix of solutions.

Price relief assistance can come in many forms. Emergency business loans and tax breaks for investment in conservation and energy production can change the economics of family and business decisions. Energy assistance, such as Gov. Palin has proposed can help stressed family budgets as the state bridges to longer term energy solutions.

Longer-term solutions build on these initiatives. Energy is at the core of my campaign for Congress. I have long made it a focus – I was the first lawmaker in Juneau to propose a statewide energy plan. I led the way in promoting renewable energy resources (and in the private sector set up an alternative energy company), and I believe that developing the right resources offers full spectrum solutions to many of the issues that confront America. Doing energy right means lower cost utility bills and jobs. It means taking the responsible course on climate change, and it helps free American foreign policy from its dangerous addiction to foreign oil. It means energy security and energy independence.

Diane Benson

Everyday I talk to Alaskans who are frightened by the prospect of paying thousands of dollars in heating costs; families who pay more to heat their homes than they pay to live in them. And workers who pray that they have enough gas in their cars to make to and from work. This energy crisis is spiraling out of control and the people of Alaska need help today, not tomorrow. In fact, they needed help yesterday.

I’d love to wave a magic wand and tell the voters who read this, I can pass a bill and solve all their problems. But the truth is, by the time that any of us running on the federal level take office in January 2009, the people of Alaska will be months into the harsh winter. The only real short term solutions lie in the hands of the state legislature. Luckily, the State seems to be on the right track. With a state surplus in the billions, it only makes sense to provide a refund of some sort to help families make it through the winter. Other short-term solutions have been proposed that involve managing assistance through fuel distributors thereby helping those in the most danger.

But the bigger question often lost in our conversations about energy is “what we will do about next winter?” Long term solutions are the key to solving Alaska’s energy crisis once and for all. We must take advantage of the wealth of resources that currently exist in this state. Whether it’s the ocean crashing on to the beach, the sun shining or the wind blowing there are a plethora of opportunities for developing renewable energy.

Once I’m elected I will call on Congress to extend the Production Tax Credit for the next 10 years sin order to promote development in our renewable resources. Furthermore, I will increase tax incentives for individual homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. And most importantly I will fight to ensure that Alaskans are the primary benefactors from Alaska’s oil and gas resources rather than major corporations.

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Blogger Philip Munger said...

Good job, Linda! Both Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz show a keen grasp of this issue.

8/14/2008 10:00 PM  

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