The business of clean energy in Alaska conference

The last two days I attended the Business of Clean Energy Conference hosted by the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. I love conferences – free food, lots of information, like-minded people to talk to. I always end up envious of those people with real credibility and influence, and find myself figuring out if I could be there in 5 or 10 years, or if I’ll always be a minor player. Like it matters. This conference had some key local players, like Gwen Holdmann, who is one of my personal heroes for being very smart, savvy, well-respected and the mom of twins. It also had a lot of national experts from states such as California, Colorado, Texas, and Oregon and organizations like NREL, etc.

A couple of take home messages of the conference: Alaska needs policy, most likely an appropriately written RPS (renewable portfolio standard) making it necessary for a certain percentage of energy to come from renewables by a given date. Our (normally loopy) Gov has said 50% by 2025, but that is not backed up by legislation. REAP (Renewable Energy Alaska Project) has been key in getting our Renewable Energy Grant Fund through and getting $125 million worth of projects funded. However, REAP may not touch this with a 10 foot pole (I’m guessing), as part of REAP’s success is from being a coalition containing players from many sectors, including the utilities. The utilities are quite hostile to net metering and RPS’s. There are some legitimate reasons for this , due to the special conditions in Alaska (small, isolated communities, etc), but these problems could be solved by appropriate wording. I am disappointed that no one passed around a piece of paper to sign up to form a working group for a state RPS. The key players were probably in the room. I had a heady moment where I pictured myself starting the list and passing it around at the end of the conference, but it didn’t happen. I’m not that cool yet.

Secondly, it was great that the need to officially concentrate on energy efficiency first was universally touted and acknowledged. When you really get into it, foam insulation turns me on just as much as solar hot water these days, if not more. Removing north-facing windows really gets me hot. Energy efficiency may have had an awkward childhood, but I think it is getting pretty sexy as it matures. Just like renewables, Alaska already has funding and programs for weatherization and energy efficiency (I’ll blog about my Home Energy Rebate audit soon), but policy on the books is needed to keep things stable and going the right direction, and encourage continued investment in line with good goals.

I schizophrenically hopped in my mind between big picture thinking, to planning for the ecoplex, to figuring out my company’s role and my professional role in the clean energy economy. It was good.

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