Southeast successful in winning energy funds

By MELISSA GRIFFITHS

Morris News Service – Alaska

JUNEAU — Southeast Alaska has been very successful in using Alaska Energy Authority funds for renewable energy projects — too successful if you ask some other regions.

The authority runs a renewable energy fund that is meant to fund projects for areas with high energy costs, especially those that won’t be directly affected by the completion of a natural gas line.

Southeast Alaska communities have capitalized on these funds at a rate greater than any other region, perhaps because the region put a focus on energy planning “before (it) was cool.”

More than 22 percent of the funds so far have gone to Southeast projects and a quarter of projects currently in operation are located in Southeast Alaska, said Sara Fisher-Goad, Director of the Alaska Energy Authority. She was the keynote speaker during Tuesday’s Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit held at Centennial Hall.

“Other parts of the state are concerned that Southeast may be over-served by the renewable energy fund,” Fisher-Goad said.

The program has a statutory requirement to have a regional balance, so Southeast might find its energy funds limited this year. Of course, all funds will be limited this year due to the state’s tight budget.

Fisher-Goad said her agency has been asked to look at capping funding “so the Southeast wedge of the pie doesn’t grow to more than 22 percent.”

That still leaves funds for Southeast communities, but the authority will be focused in its recommendations on identifying and prioritizing communities with the highest energy costs.

Six projects in Southeast were identified; five biomass and one heat pump. There were other projects that didn’t fit within the first $15 million of funding, which is likely to be the only funding for Fiscal Year 2016.

With less money available to distribute, there is concern that capping funding to projects may lead to some being stranded.

Like many other agencies and organizations, the AEA is hoping to leverage federal funds to assist communities with renewable energy projects. Fisher-Goad said there are other potential funding sources still available, including loans, and the AEA can provide assistance to communities in applying.

For information on AEA’s programs, visit akenergyauthority.org.

Melissa Griffiths is a reporter for the Juneau Empire. She can be reached at melissa.griffiths@juneauempire.com.

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