Green get-together slated: Joint committees on energy hearing comes to Kenai

Posted: Monday, August 03, 2009

With rising costs and a diminishing supply of oil, energy efficiency is on the minds of many Americans. Going green, too, tops the list of important issues for government, and the state of Alaska is no exception.

Kenai's Challenger Learning Center will play host to a joint House and Senate Special Committees on Energy hearing Friday at 2 p.m.

The hearing's main purpose is to promote, encourage and improve energy efficiency, said Rep. Charisse Millett, who's chairing the meeting.

"We're just looking for input and direction on what folks want to see Alaska look like in 2025 as far as energy needs," she said. "We want to engage Alaskans."

Several government officials will speak at the event, which is open to the public, including Senate energy chair Sen. Lesil McGuire, House energy co-chair Rep. Bryce Edgmon and House Speaker Mike Chenault.

"We'll have a pretty solid group of legislators there," Millett said.

Among the many topics that will be discussed, one of the key issues will be the Legislature's potential override of former Gov. Sarah Palin's veto to accept $28.6 million in federal stimulus funds for the state energy program.

When Palin refused the money, there was a great deal of misinformation and perceived strings attached to it, Millett said. She was just being cautious, she added.

Since then, Millett said much more information has been uncovered about accepting the funds. There are no strings attached and the money can be used for anything energy efficiency-related, except for research and development and it can't be used to purchase land, she said.

"There are no requirements in this money that you have to adopt any new building codes," Millett added.

If the state refuses the funds, the money will be placed back into the federal treasury. Alaska remains the last state yet to accept all of the stimulus funds offered, Millett said.

Should the Legislature override Palin's veto, Gov. Sean Parnell would have until Sept. 30 to request the money. It would be his decision where that money is then spent.

It takes 45 votes to override a veto.

A special legislative session is set for Aug. 10 where the House and Senate will vote on the veto override.

Millett said at this point she feels most legislators are still contemplating which way they'll vote.

The rest of the meeting will be used to discuss topics such as Cook Inlet gas supplies. Another main focal point is public input, Millett said.

"This is definitely a listening tour."

She said the Legislature wants to know how people are adapting to rising energy costs, any assistance they'd like to see from the state and how the administration can be more user-friendly.

Opinions on a state long-term energy plan, too, are sought from the public.

"This is a good way to get the Legislature to the people," Millett said. "We'll come to you."

The same tour, which has visited other parts of the state, has been well received and well attended.

"The amount of people that have been showing up at the meetings has been overwhelming," Millett said. "It's been a very successful opportunity for the Legislature."

Every place it visits, Millett said the Legislature is met with energy aware and educated constituents.

"People are so engaged and are so concerned about the high cost of energy," she said.

About bringing the meeting to the Kenai Peninsula, Millett said, "We're very excited. We encourage everybody to come and bring their ideas."

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.



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