State’s draft energy plan highlights familiar Alaska megaprojects, offers vague plans for renewables

a natural gas line
A natural gas line near Utqiagvik. (Photo by Daniel Cornwall/Flickr Creative Commons)

This month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s energy security task force released a draft of its statewide energy plan. The draft breaks down strategies to upgrade energy for three major regions in Alaska — rural communities, the coasts, and the Railbelt.

The plan takes a broad approach. There are mentions of fossil fuels — especially natural gas — and renewables like wind, solar and hydropower. It even calls for developing technologies like micronuclear plants.

“It was kind of a large collection of every energy idea anyone’s ever heard for the past 10 years in one document,” said Ben Boetteger, a policy analyst with Cook Inletkeeper. 

But the only specific projects are proposals that have long been criticized by renewable energy advocates.

The document calls for revisiting long-discussed megaprojects like the Susitna Dam and the Alaska Liquid Natural Gas pipeline, also known as the AKLNG project — an 800-mile pipeline that would run from the North Slope to Cook Inlet. 

Activist Arleigh Hitchcock with the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition said it would be a “carbon bomb,” emitting a massive amount of greenhouse gas that causes climate change.

“We need to move away from natural gas,” Hitchcock said. “It’s still a fossil fuel, and a limited resource. And unreliable.”

The draft plan says that bringing the pipeline to fruition would be good for Railbelt utilities, which rely almost entirely on natural gas from the Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet supplies could run short before the end of the decade. 

But the project also has a $40 billion price tag. And to build it, Alaska would have to sell some gas leases to buyers outside of the state, mostly in Asia. No buyers have come forward yet. 

Critics say the project is not financially feasible, and it’s not clear how much of the hypothetical gas supply from the AKLNG would be sold to Alaskans. 

Hitchcock said the draft plan’s focus on the AKLNG and other natural gas prospects was disappointing.

“It would’ve been nice to see the taskforce come out with some real solutions, some renewable energy solutions, that are the future for Alaska,” they said. “Instead of continuing the same extractive model for the state that isn’t working.”

The draft plan does lay out broad intentions to promote renewable energy projects — things like workforce development and recruitment, new financing options for renewable energy projects, and more money towards the state’s existing renewable energy fund. 

The plan also calls for the adoption of a state clean energy standard. Early on, the taskforce considered a renewable energy standard instead. That would have set enforceable targets and deadlines for utilities to incorporate more sustainable energy like solar and wind power. A clean energy standard — which the task force endorsed — is incentive-based and has looser terms. 

It’s too early to tell if these suggestions will do much to increase the amount of renewable energy in the state. But Boetteger, with Cook Inlet Keeper, said the draft plan’s could motivate lawmakers. 

“I expect this is going to be influential in the legislature, so it will definitely help elevate these issues,” Boetteger said. “But as for solving them, it is definitely not a solution in itself.”

None of the draft plan’s proposals are hard commitments yet. And notably, in nearly 150 pages of proposed renewable energy strategies, the report only mentions climate change once. 

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