Introducing alternative energy sources is vitally important to both urban and rural Alaska communities, and our statewide potential in the renewable and clean energy sector is as large as our state itself. Advancements in the solar and clean energy industry are helping to create jobs, spur economic activity, and reduce the environmental impact in rural communities across Alaska. Most importantly, renewable energy solutions are cutting costs for Alaska homeowners and residents.
Today, energy efficient homes are increasing home values and lowering energy bills across the nation. Rural communities in Alaska that often face high electricity costs are increasingly turning to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to heat their homes, and the seasonal application of solar power is offsetting home energy costs. In the Northwest Arctic Borough alone, solar energy installations helped save 11 villages more than $80,000 between 2013 and 2017.
In order to keep building on our renewable energy momentum at the local and community level, we need support from the federal government to help Alaska’s budding clean energy sector recover from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking from personal experience, the pandemic slowed down a lot of work, including projects in rural Alaska where reliable energy solutions are desperately needed. What we experienced was just a microcosm of what America’s clean energy industry has gone through overall since the onset of the pandemic in March.
Nationally, America’s clean energy workforce has taken a tremendous hit. Prior to COVID-19, there were more than 3.3 million workers employed in the clean energy industry. According to the Department of Labor, more than half a million of those workers are out of a job, and that is despite gains in June and July. Here in Alaska, that figure includes more than 1,300 workers — more than 23% of our state’s clean-energy workforce.
Despite this, Congress has yet to provide any sort of economic relief to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 for this vital sector of our economy as it has for others. Alaska’s clean-energy workforce and job creators need assistance in order to continue helping our communities become more sustainable and reduce our collective environmental impact. A large part of the reason clean energy has yet to receive the same level of attention and support as other industries is likely perceived partisanship. In reality, advancing clean and renewable energy solutions benefits us all, regardless of where you live or where you land on the political spectrum.
While Alaska’s own Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have stepped up over the years to support energy alternatives, Congress as a whole needs to come together to advance the clean energy industry through bipartisan collaboration. Today, bipartisan bills such as the American Energy Innovation Act introduced by Sen. Murkowski and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) could modernize the United States’ energy policies while promoting greater investments in clean energy technologies that could benefit all Alaskans and Americans. It is clear that Republicans are ready to advance bipartisan climate-smart policies in the lame duck session and into the 117th Congress.
Strengthening the ability of clean energy companies to continue the work we do will only help create much-needed jobs and support local economies in communities of all sizes across Alaska. That is why Congress must act without delay to advance bipartisan climate-smart policies in the lame duck session and into the 117th Congress as well as support the clean energy industry through the pandemic. Alaska communities and our economy needs legislation that will spur further innovations in renewable energy while enabling America to continue being a global leader on carbon emissions reductions. There is no time to waste – Sens. Murkowski and Sullivan should lead on this issue and encourage more of their colleagues to secure the future of America’s clean energy efforts.
Lew Ulmer is a licensed real estate agent with Jack White Real Estate in Anchorage.