Saturday, May 18, 2013
Zoning Laws Impede Renewable Energy Efforts in Anchorage
Between unforgiving geography, small populations and an economy based almost entirely on oil, renewable energy still faces an uphill battle in the 49th state.
Kicking off today in downtown Anchorage, the seventh annual Alaska Renewable Energy Fair highlighted a growing trend in Alaskan power: sustainable systems and renewable resources
"There are many, many projects going on around the state of Alaska already,” said Chris Rose, executive director of Renewable Energy Alaska. “We've got some of the best renewable energy resources in the whole country."
While Alaska may have plenty of sunlight and wind to spare, the Last Frontier isn’t the easiest place to develop those resources.
“Zoning doesn't permit it here in Anchorage,” said Scott Stevens, owner of CSS Solutions, a local wind turbine manufacturer. “It's the whole residential zoning—it's illegal for most people. They can't set one up for their residential home."
Zoning laws in Alaska’s largest city restrict where you can place a wind turbine and how many you can operate, and residential lots are limited to one small turbine.
“That doesn't leave your normal person who wants one the ability to have a wind generator,” Stevens said.
Other renewable alternatives also face challenges: Electric cars are no match for Alaska’s sparse road system, and utility-scale projects like the Fire Island wind farm and Susitna Dam face criticism over growing cost concerns.
“Most of these wind turbines have 24-hour maintenance periods,” said Stevens, whose company manufactures small turbines for private use. “People actually have to be there every day to maintain them, and that becomes very, very expensive, and they end up not putting out as much as they claim."
Despite the controversy, renewable energy projects continue to spread statewide.
“Especially in the rural communities, they've been looking at renewable energy as a way to decrease the risk that they have to high oil prices,” Rose said.
The Susitna Dam project is moving forward after receiving the legislature’s blessing earlier this year, and Chugach Electric Company recently approved power purchase agreements for Fire Island wind power.
“This is not a green thing, so much as it's a very economic thing,” said Rose. “It's a way to stabilize our energy prices here, when we're so dependent on natural gas for most of our electricity and almost all of our heat."
But between unforgiving geography, small populations and an economy based almost entirely on oil, renewable energy still faces an uphill battle in the 49th state.