(Photo by viviandnguyen_/Creative Commons)

Sitka’s Sustainability Commission has scored $300,000 in federal assistance for the next year to develop a renewable energy strategy, and now they’re looking for community feedback on the project. 

The commission is partnering with the National Renewable Energy Lab on the Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project, which means they’ll have access to energy experts as they develop the plan. Sustainability Coordinator Bri Gabel and Commission Chair Katie Riley joined KCAW’s Brooke Schafer for the morning interview to discuss the plan:

Gabel says they’re using data the city’s electric department gathered in a study last year funded by the Department of Energy. 

“The great thing about Sitka is because our utility is municipally owned, we’re in a pretty unique position to where we can kind of engage pretty quickly, in a way that other places might not have the opportunity to, because many utilities in the country are privately owned,” Gabel says. “Because of that unique combination, and having almost two years of really robust data of what we can do, to kind of give us a direction of you know, ‘Where do we even want to go?’ Because generation for the sake of generation isn’t very helpful. So what do we actually want to see in our community?”

They’re kicking off the scoping process for the plan at a meeting on September 5. Commission Chair Katie Riley says it’s the first of many opportunities for the community to get involved and ask questions.

“I think a common [question] that I hear is, ‘We just expanded the dam not that long ago. We have a lot of excess power. Why are we talking about additional generation? Right? Why are we talking about energy planning?’ And so this is an educational opportunity for folks to kind of learn about why these discussions are happening, why we are talking about additional generation capacity and why we might need that, but then also, for them to say, what do we want to use that for?” Riley says.

In 2020, a temporary climate task force laid the groundwork for the permanent Sustainability Commission, which was established last year. While developing an energy strategy is a top priority for the commission, it’s also looking into ways to divert Sitka’s waste stream and shift the city’s fleet of vehicles to electric. 

The commission meets at Harrigan Centennial Hall at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, September 5.