State should take lead on new energy sources

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2005

A massive energy bill passed by the U.S. Senate late last month didn't include opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, but it did include something that should spark Alaskans' interest just as much: incentives for developing renewable energy projects, including harnessing ocean waters.

That's thanks to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who pushed an amendment to include ocean projects in the renewable energy technology to receive government incentives. The bill previously had provided incentives for other forms of renewable energy, including wind and solar power.

It's great to see one of Alaska's leaders take the lead on pushing alternative sources of energy. It can only help to garner support for opening ANWR.

The trouble with Alaskans' focus on ANWR is that oil is not a renewable resource. No matter how much oil there is, it is still a limited amount. Eventually it will run out. While opening ANWR should play an important role in the nation's energy policy, it is no panacea for the nation's energy ills. Opening ANWR needs to go hand in hand with a real push for alternative sources of energy, meaningful fuel efficiency standards and conservation measures.

Murkowski's amendment to the energy bill helps send the message that Alaskans get the big picture when it comes to energy. Oil isn't the state's only resource. Alaskans readily acknowledge the ocean as the source of another of its primary resources and livelihoods — fish — but it makes sense that the power of the ocean also could be used to provide energy. With its tides, currents and temperature differences, the potential of the ocean seems almost limitless.

Oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface. Alaska is especially connected to the ocean, containing approximately half of the nation's entire coastline. Alaska's leaders should be promoting the ocean as an alternative form of energy and helping the state take the lead on developing the technology to harness the energy. Not only could the ocean provide a source of energy for Alaskans, but the ocean-energy technology also could provide a source of jobs as the technology is developed. Alaska's location means the state is in a prime position to be on the cutting edge of developing ocean-energy technology. The Kenai Peninsula, surrounded as it is by water, is particularly well situated for such endeavors.

While Alaskans tend to focus on oil and gas whenever energy is discussed, Sen. Murkowski provided some great reminders that Alaskans already are developing different sources of energy as she pushed for incentives for ocean energy. For example: Of the 5.6 million megawatts of power that Alaskans use every year, 1.36 million come from hydropower; 3,600 megawatts come from wind turbines; and 6,000 to nearly 10,000 megawatts come from burning fish oil. In one project, fish oil, made from pollock and other fish byproducts, has been converted into diesel fuel and is running a 55-kilowatt generator at Denali National Park's maintenance and housing facility. This summer's test also includes using a blend of fish oil and traditional petroleum-based diesel in a few park vehicles.

The version of the energy bill passed by the House in April is vastly different from what was passed by the Senate. The House bill, for example, does include opening ANWR to oil drilling. It does not include a number of the incentives for alternative sources of energy that are a big part of the Senate bill. President Bush has asked lawmakers to resolve their differences quickly and send him a bill before August. Tough negotiations are expected.

While Alaskans can appreciate what the oil and gas industry has done for the state and will do in the future, they also can recognize more needs to be done to develop other sources of energy.

Alaskans need to let their senators know they appreciate their forward-looking support of renewable sources of energy. They need to encourage them to find ways to help the state become a leader in the development of alternative sources of energy, including the ocean. Those sources of energy and opening ANWR aren't mutually exclusive. They should all be part of the national energy policy. Alaskans are likely to find they have more support for opening ANWR when the nation sees they are taking a lead on such things as developing renewable sources of energy and promoting conservation measures.

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