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February 20th, 2009

Palin to unveil power plan for Alaska Railbelt

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Written by: The Iowa Republican

Sarah PalinANCHORAGE, Alaska – Gov. Sarah Palin has high hopes for a multibillion dollar natural gas pipeline. One of her other legacies could be shaping the systems that let most Alaskans flip on a light switch.

Palin by the end of the month will propose a bill taking the first steps toward forming a state corporation to oversee power generation in the Railbelt, home to 65 percent of Alaska’s population.

The Railbelt is named for areas touched by tracks of the Alaska Railroad: Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su and the Kenai Peninsula. Six independent utilities now power the region. An $800,000 state study overseen by the Alaska Energy Authority suggests it’s time for a more efficient management model.

The best hope for future affordable rates, according to the study, is a centralized authority with the financial muscle to build efficient power plants, coordinate power generation between all facilities and send electricity over a reliable power grid.

“It isn’t really a new idea,” says Joe Balash, Palin’s energy adviser. “It’s just time.”

A transition would be complex. The six utilities – Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks, Matanuska Electric Association, Chugach Electric Association, Anchorage Municipal Light & Power, the City of Seward and Homer Electric Association – operate under a variety of state and federal rules. They have long-term obligations for purchasing fuel and paying off debt. They operate with their own elected or appointed boards and their first allegiance is to their own customers.

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