September 23, 2020 – 6:03 AM
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – While Alaska’s Republican governor continues promoting the oil industry underpinning the state’s economy, he also has expressed interest in renewable energy projects.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy said improvements in technology and decreasing costs of renewable power “open up some new and tremendous possibilities” for the state, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Monday.
“I know there’s a view, on the part of some, that a Republican governor that is supportive of Alaska’s resource extraction industries, including those around fossil fuels, would not want anything to do with renewables,” Dunleavy said last week. “That’s not the case.”
Alaska is warming twice as fast as the global average as climate change threatens to impose steep costs in the state. The decreasing costs and growing availability of renewable power sources are making their adoption inescapable, and even major oil companies like BP have expanded into the industry.
Dunleavy supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and disbanded the commission charged with guiding the state’s response to climate change.
Yet he also approached a pair of climate activists about an idea they backed for a hydroelectric project at Eklutna Lake outside Anchorage, which would coincide with an expansion of wind energy across the state.
The Eklutna hydroelectric project and related wind power investments could cost $5 billion or more. But supporters said the project could supply most of Alaska’s road system communities with 100% renewable power and cut electric costs by a third over time.
“We were quite surprised by how enthusiastic he was,” activist Ceal Smith said of Dunleavy. “He said he even drove out to Eklutna to conceptualize it.”
Dunleavy also contacted billionaire investor Warren Buffett about Alaska’s wind power potential. Executives from one of Buffett’s companies, Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co., have met with the governor and senior administration officials.
“It makes total sense to explore pumped hydro, using wind as a main source of energy and the reservoir as the batteries,” Dunleavy said. “We have the topography to make this work.”
Alternative energy proponents said Dunleavy’s interest reflects a growing political consensus around the benefits of renewable power.
“Things are shifting,” Smith said. “And this is a new place we’re in, that we haven’t been in before.”