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Organic Consumers Association

Alaska Is a Frontier for Green Power

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska — Beyond the fishing boats, the snug homes and the tanks of diesel fuel marking this Eskimo village on the Bering Sea, three huge wind turbines tower over the tundra. Their blades spin slowly in a breeze cold enough to freeze skin.

One of the nation’s harshest landscapes, it turns out, is becoming fertile ground for green power.

As interest in cleaning up power generation grows around the country, Alaska is fast becoming a testing ground for new technologies and an unlikely experiment in oil-state support for renewable energy. Alaskans once cast a wary eye on anything smacking of environmentalism, but today they are investing heavily in green power, not so much to reduce emissions as to save cash.

In remote villages like this one, where diesel to power generators is shipped by barge and can cost more than $5 a gallon in bulk, electricity from renewable sources like wind is already competitive with power made from fossil fuels. In urban areas along the state’s limited road system, large wind and hydroelectric projects are also becoming attractive.

Alaska produces more oil than any state except Texas, but most of it leaves the state. Small markets and high transportation costs have kept local fuel prices high. As oil prices spiked last year, the state’s coffers overflowed with oil tax revenue, but the rising cost of diesel and other fuels became a local crisis.

Gov. Sarah Palin and state lawmakers responded last year by pledging $300 million over five years in renewable energy grants to utilities, independent power producers or local governments. It is a substantial sum for a state with only 670,000 residents.

“Oil used to be cheap and convenient,” said Steve Haagenson, appointed last year by Ms. Palin as statewide energy coordinator. “Today, it’s just convenient.”

Advocates of renewable energy here say Alaska, with its windy coasts, untapped rivers and huge tidal and wave resources, could quickly become a national leader. The state already generates 24 percent of its electricity from renewable sources — almost exclusively hydroelectric — and Ms. Palin last month announced a goal of 50 percent by 2025. “Today’s current low oil prices should not lull Alaskans into a false sense of security, as if these low prices are going to last,” she said.


Full story: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/business/18alaska.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

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