Alaska creates climate plan to reduce statewide emissions and fund a wide range of sustainable energy projects

A man on a ladder installs a piece of equipment on the upper part of a wall.
A Panhandle Heat Pumps installer mounts a heat pump indoor unit in a home in Juneau in March, 2024. (Photo by Sally Schlichting, Alaska Heat Smart)

Alaska has submitted to the federal government a first-of-its-kind plan to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming. It’s part of the Biden administration’s ambitious effort to tackle climate change.

President Biden has committed the U.S. to cut its emissions roughly in half by 2030. One of the administration’s biggest tools is the Inflation Reduction Act — the law passed in 2021 and directed billions of dollars to help fight climate change. 

To access that money under the EPA’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program, states are required to submit something called a climate action plan, which outlines their biggest sources of emissions and ideas to reduce them.

Alaska changed the name slightly, calling it a Sustainable Energy – not climate – Action Plan.

“We were really focused on energy in this priority phase, that’s where we keep hearing a lot of grantee interest around making energy more affordable, more sustainable,” said Department of Environmental Conservation program manager Morgan Frank. “And you know, since we’re focusing on that, we decided to call it that.”

The plan lists the biggest sources of emissions in the state, including industry, electricity generation and air transportation. 

The emissions impact from oil that’s produced in Alaska but burned elsewhere isn’t included in the state’s analysis. The plan does not include proposals to cut emissions from the oil and gas industry.

It then lists 17 priorities to reduce emissions, mostly focused on building more renewable energy and helping homes and businesses become more energy efficient.

One proposal would expand the Bradley Lake hydroelectric project to supply more clean energy to the Railbelt. Another project through Alaska Housing Finance Corporation would fund weatherization for homes statewide. That can mean adding insulation or upgrading windows and doors to make a house more energy efficient.

Another proposal would replace fossil fuel heating with more efficient electric heat pumps in Southeast Alaska homes.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer that electrification makes sense,” said Andy Romanoff, executive director of Alaska Heat Smart, a non-profit organization based in Juneau working with Southeast Conference on the heat pump proposal. 

Heat pumps use electricity to heat homes and tend to be more efficient and safer than oil heating. Romanoff said in coastal Alaska, where many communities already power their grids with cheap hydropower, heat pumps cut emissions and save money.

“There’s so much need, we’re just scratching the surface,” said Romanoff. “You combine that need with existing high oil prices and expenses of home heating. And the fact that so many Alaska coastal communities have hydropower — you put those together into an equation and you come out with savings.”

Griffin Plush, with the Alaska Municipal League, worked on the plan. He said these proposals could go a long way toward making energy more affordable, especially in rural communities.

“Especially the last few years in some communities, that price has gone up and not softened. Last winter, we had some communities that had $16 per gallon heating fuel,” Plush said, adding that heat pumps or basic efficiency improvements can lower the reliance on expensive fuel. 

“So there’s that resilience aspect for rural communities that I think is exciting,” he said.

Climate advocates in Alaska eyeing the historic amount of climate funding available today say this plan is a good first step.  

“There is this such an incredible opportunity to transition in Alaska and Alaskans know what Alaskans need,” said Jenny-Marie Stryker, political director for the Alaska Center. “So I think it’s really just a matter of getting as much federal dollars as we can out of it.”

This plan is the beginning of a longer process. In order to stay eligible for federal climate funding, the state will have to produce a more detailed plan next year and set targets for cutting carbon emissions going forward. 

a portrait of a woman outside

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at Read more about Kavithahere.

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