Commentary

With 22 days left, legislature focuses on energy


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By the time you read this report we’ll be entering the last 22 days of the session, during which we will be focusing on passage of the bills that we really feel are the most important. The House has passed the Operating Budget, which is our only constitutional duty. Now we’re waiting for the Senate to share the Capital Budget with us, so that we can carefully review and hopefully add to it before adjournment.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Energy. With the high cost of fuel these days, people all over the state are struggling to pay their utility bills. There are several pieces of legislation being discussed this year that address the issue from different directions.

House Bill 250, ‘Renewable Energy Grants’, will reauthorize this fund that began in 2008. This program has already awarded grants for more than 200 renewable energy projects across the state, several of which have helped with development of more hydro power in Southeast. These grants will have a significant impact on the cost of energy for many small communities that are trying to become less dependent on diesel fuel. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this bill, which has passed the House and will soon be heard in Senate Finance.

Passage of House Bill 294, the ’Power Cost Equalization’ (PCE) bill, will help more Alaskans with their immediate energy needs by raising the kilowatt-hour ceiling from 500-600 per month. It will also help some small business owners, who have not qualified for PCE before. The Alaska Energy Authority determines eligibility of community facilities and residential customers and authorizes payment to the electric utility, which then passes the savings on to their customers. Nine communities in Southeast qualify for PCE.

I’m happy to be a co-sponsor for House Bill 36, ‘Small Business Energy Efficiency Grants’, which is modeled after the AHFC’s Home Energy Rebate Program. This program would allow small business owners wishing to make energy efficiency improvements on their businesses to receive a rebate for some of their expenditures. This could help many of the 16,000 small enterprises in Alaska; who can use the money previously spent on fuel costs to grow their businesses.

Among the programs already in place is the AHFC’s ‘Home Energy Rebate’ program, which rebates some of the cost of energy-efficiency improvements, including materials and labor, to homeowners who increase their home’s energy rating. To find out how to qualify for rebates up to $10,000, call 1-877-AK-REBATE. I know several people who have taken advantage of this program to get new insulation, double pane windows and more.

The existing AHFC Heating Assistance Program helps renters pay a portion of home heating expenses. The program runs from October 1 through April 30. For more information about how to qualify, call 1-800-470-3058.

It’s now about a week before the deadline to apply for PFD checks. Just as a reminder, these dividends (which we often take for granted) are another benefit that comes from our amazing oil resources. Thanks to some wise decisions by previous lawmakers, we now have a savings account that shares the earnings from our oil resources each year – just for living here! So don’t forget to apply by going online to Alaska.gov.

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