High cost of electricity hampering business investment in small towns, Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell says; hydropower, biomass seen as potential alternatives; US$177M in funds approved for 207 renewable energy projects to date in the state

JUNEAU, Alaska , October 3, 2011 () – Alaska needs to find ways to stabilize the cost of energy in rural areas, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell told leaders from some of Alaska's small communities.

Treadwell said the high cost of electricity is hampering business investment in small towns, the Juneau Empire reported (http://bit.ly/qlRpZt).

"If we can get to where Alaska has stable cost power, it's going to be better for the economy and the state won't be so risky to invest in," he said Thursday at the Alaska Rural Energy Conference.

Treadwell said it can be challenging to come up with solutions for affordable power because rural communities have unique infrastructures. There are about 200 Alaska communities that are not on the power grid, he said.

"Every one of these 200 communities has some unique quality so you can't say one size fits all," said Treadwell, a Republican. "Hydro or geothermal will work in some places and not others."

Robert Venables of Juneau and Clay Hammer from Wrangell said hydropower, for example, can be a strength for Southeast Alaska. Biomass also is a potential energy source because of the area's large forests, Hammer said.

Still, there are challenges, they said. The federal government owns much of the area's land, which means it could be subject to challenging laws and regulations.

This year's conference was the seventh gathering sponsored by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power and the Alaska Energy Authority.

Treadwell said there are several energy initiatives already completed or in the works, including 50 rural power system upgrades and 71 bulk fuel upgrade projects that had been completed as of July.

There is also funding for hydroelectric and geothermal projects, along with $36 million in renewable energy grants.

There has been $177 million approved for 207 renewable energy projects to date. Twenty-one projects are expected to be completed by the end of 2011, with an estimated fuel savings of 6 million gallons per year.

He said the state also has committed to having 50 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2025.

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Information from: Juneau Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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