JUNEAU, Alaska — On Monday, the state House voted unanimously to spend $250 million over the next five years on renewable energy projects throughout the state.
The vote comes on the heels of a highly successful $176 million state program that got under way back in 2008. That first phase of the state's renewable energy program, which will sunset in 2013 without an extension, is expected to relieve rural villages of the need for millions of dollars in diesel fuel for energy generation, saving tens of millions of dollars annually.
The program is not solely for the benefit of rural areas. It's aimed at helping all parts of the state.
Rural communities aren't the only ones getting wind energy out of the deal. Urban areas -- like Cook Inlet -- will soon be getting millions of watts' worth of tidal generators.
Just before Monday's vote, some members of the house said that Alaska was at the forefront of renewable energy in America, on a per-capita basis. The goal is to have the state generating 50 percent of its own energy from renewables by 2025.
The impetus behind the program is simple. In Alaska, on average, a kilowatt-hour of electricty costs about 14 cents -- almost twice as much as it costs in the Lower 48.
In some rural areas, the cost of a kilowatt-hour is much worse. The great expense of barging in diesel fuel to remote areas means that some people in remote areas of the state pay 50 cents or even $1 a kilowatt-hour, driving prices as high as 10 times the national average.
That's why Alaska is pioneering renewables on a scale that most states would be envious of. The costs of transporting fuel out to far-flung regions of the state mandates that Alaska do something.
The House bill, HB 250, now goes on to the state Senate.
It's not clear whether it will get the same kind of unanimous support there. The president of the Senate, Gary Stevens, is expected to assign the bill to committees as early as Wednesday.