5 new state bills that could shape the future of energy in Alaska

The state’s legislative session has just begun. Here are the bills climate activists are watching.


Wind turbines on Fire Island across Turnagain Arm, a branch of Cook Inlet in Alaska. In the last 25 years, reported oil spills sent a total of 7,980 gallons of crude oil into Cook Inlet.
Design Pics Inc./Alamy Stock Photo

The 33rd session of the Alaska Legislature began Jan. 19. This year, lawmakers are considering a suite of bills that would help the state transition to renewable energy sources like solar, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and tidal energy. New bills introduced in the state’s House and Senate range from one that establishes a renewable energy fund to another that increases penalties for oil spills.

It’s already shaping up to be a contentious year. For the third session in a row, the Alaska House began without a permanent speaker. Though the deadlock ended after two days, climate groups in Alaska are concerned about the political discord, which could potentially lead to more gridlock and inaction ahead. Meanwhile, they are mobilizing on behalf of new policies. The Alaska Climate Alliance, a coalition that includes more than 50 organizations advocating for policies addressing the climate crisis, is planning to fly a delegation of grassroots and Indigenous constituents to the state Capitol in Juneau. “Given the threat of dysfunction in the state legislature, only early and sustained pressure on key legislators can ensure the best chance of any of these policies passing,” a statement from the alliance said. 

Staff from the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition (FCAC), a volunteer-led climate education and advocacy group, will join the Alaska Climate Alliance delegation in Juneau to meet with policymakers, host educational events, and attend a weekly climate rally to support three bills encouraging renewable energy development and financing. Two of the three were introduced last session, but stalled; activists are pushing for their reintroduction this year. “These policies are a step forward in moving our communities toward an economic, social and political transition based in care and joy,” said Tara Chrisman, FCAC’s communications coordinator.

 Two other bills filed this month also address Alaska’s environmental issues. One of them could lead to expanded oil and gas development, while the other would ramp up penalties for oil spills. More bills will be introduced as the session continues, but here are the five energy bills to watch right now.

The issue: Re-upping grant funding
for renewable energy

The bill: Senate Bill 33 – Renewable Energy Grant Fund

What it does: The Renewable Energy Grant Fund Program does what its name implies: It doles out grants for renewable energy projects across the state. First established in 2008 with a unanimous vote, the program has supported a hydroelectric project in King Cove, a community-scale solar project in Galena, and hundreds of other energy efficiency projects around the state. It’s set to expire this year, and this new bill would renew it through 2033. The fund’s projects are saving the equivalent of 30 million gallons of diesel fuel annually, according to estimates from the Alaska Energy Authority.

The issue: Greenbacks for a green bank

The bills: Senate Bill 123House Bill 170 – Alaska Green Bank

What it does: In recent years, several states have established specialized banks that help fund energy efficiency and renewable energy. These so-called “green banks” issue loans to projects like green residential and commercial buildings, which have historically had difficulties obtaining support from financial institutions. If these projects get off the ground, they could create jobs and make energy cheaper for Alaskans — and help the clean energy market grow.

In 2021, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R, introduced legislation in both the House and Senate to establish a green bank. But after the bills were referred to the House and Senate finance committees, progress on both stalled. SB 123 and HB 170 are last session’s bills; efforts to revive Dunleavy’s legislation recommend the establishment of a green bank with a starting capital of $10 million.

Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy speaks in front of a hydropower turbine on the bank of the Kvichak River in Igiugig, Alaska. In 2019, the Alaska Native village adopted the emerging hydropower technology.
Austin McDaniel/Alaska Governor's Office

The issue: Making the switch to renewable energy

The bills: House Bill 301 / Senate Bill 179 – Renewable Portfolio Standard

What it does: The Alaska Railbelt region extends from the state’s interior south to the Kenai Peninsula and represents about 79% of Alaska’s electric generation, according to a 2022 Alaska Climate Alliance report. These two bills, also introduced last session by Dunleavy, would require the Railbelt’s five electric utilities to generate a percentage of the electricity they produce using renewable sources. That percentage would rise over the next two decades: 20% of electricity generated must be renewable by 2025, 30% by 2030, 55% by 2035 and 80% by 2040.

Meeting the goal will require investing in hydroelectric, solar, wind, tidal and geothermal power, but could save $500 million annually in fuel costs, according to a 2022 National Renewable Energy Laboratory analysis ordered by the governor. The legislation also includes penalties for electric companies that don’t meet the required timelines; every megawatt hour generated below the clean energy standard will incur a fee of $20, which could result in millions in fines for companies that don’t comply. The bills stalled last session; now, climate activists are urging the Legislature to reintroduce and progress them.

The issue: Expanding oil and gas production

The bill: House Bill 32 – Oil and Gas Working Group

What it does: This bill would establish a working group to explore the expansion of oil and gas production in Alaska. The group would include members of various state departments and agencies, and would require them to meet regularly with oil and gas lease owners, producers and explorers to develop recommendations for policies that support boosting fossil fuel production, which will then be presented to the state Legislature. Potential recommendations include lowering costs for establishing new oil and gas projects, streamlining contingency plans for oil spills and reducing environmental restrictions that impede oil and gas activities.

The issue: Deterring oil spills

The bill: House Bill 33 – Oil Spill/Pollution Prevention

What it does: Thousands of oil spills and gas leaks pollute U.S. waterways every year, endangering plants, animals and people. In the last 25 years, for example, there have been 694 reported spills from offshore drilling activities in the waters outside Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, sending a total of 7,980 gallons of crude oil into Cook Inlet. HB 33 would impose higher fines on companies responsible for oil spills, incentivizing stronger precautions to avoid them.

The bill recommends harsher penalties for larger oil spills, especially in areas with “significant aquatic resources,” such as streams used for subsistence fishing or lakes popular with tourism. In waters where fish spawn, for instance, HB 33 increases fines from the current rate of $10 per gallon of oil spilled to $50. In addition to raising fines, the bill also specifies that if the courts find that an oil spill was caused by gross negligence, fines would be quintupled.

Note: This story has been updated to clarify that two of the five bills were introduced but stalled last session; now, activists are pushing for them to be reintroduced this year.

Victoria Petersen is a freelance journalist living in Anchorage, Alaska. Previously, she was a reporting fellow at The New York Times and a High Country News intern. Follow @vgpetersen

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