Point of View: State, labor, and utilities are aligned on modernizing the Railbelt grid

Today, Alaska has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to capture federal infrastructure dollars and stabilize Alaska’s aging Railbelt electrical grid, bringing it up to modern standards.

If the utilities, the State, and organized labor work together we can take advantage of this momentum to complete long-needed repairs and investments on the transmission system Railbelt Alaskans rely on to deliver power to homes, businesses, and community facilities.

Together, we can increase resiliency in the face of unprecedented natural disasters, climate change and our state’s rugged geographic terrain. We can keep our national defense assets at peak performance capacity.

We can proactively prepare Alaska for a fuel-diverse energy future. And perhaps most important, we can create the backbone for integrating new energy generation based on emerging technologies — whatever and wherever it may be.

The Railbelt transmission grid serves 75% of Alaska’s population in an area equivalent to the stretch between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Whether we use wind, hydro, solar, tidal, natural gas-powered generation, or any other form — we must be able to plug the generation assets in where they’re generated and transmit that power to any place on the grid.

In addition to improving transmission for Alaskans along the road system, this work has the potential to keep electric rates from rising as quickly as they otherwise might, impacting Power Cost Equalization, or PCE, and creating better rates for Alaskans in rural communities as well.

In today’s world, affordable power is the key to unlocking quality of life and economic productivity. It is our responsibility to make sure Alaskans share equally in the benefits.

This initiative means we will need to continue to train and hire even more skilled tradespeople from every corner of the state to build and maintain the grid. We are committed together to doing what it takes to educate, hire and train Alaska workers to set Alaska up for a longer-term economic growth instead of the old boom and bust model made up of Outside workers taking their paychecks back to the Lower 48.

We must strengthen collaboration with partners and support apprenticeships and other career/tech programs in public schools. Last year, IBEW 1547 graduated the fifth cohort through the Veterans Electrical Entry Program (VEEP), helping military service members transition to their next career.

Projects like this and many others in the job pipeline will mean jobs not only during construction but longer-term as we maintain and operate the infrastructure.

Right now, we have historic alignment of the players involved. Utilities, the State of Alaska, and labor are working together in a way that has not been seen in our lifetimes to build a reliable, resilient and efficient grid for future families and business owners. Now is the time for all the players to combine efforts and secure this investment for Alaskans.

Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska. Doug Tansy is the business manager for IBEW 1547.