Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and disbanded the commission charged with guiding his state’s response to climate change.
Kerry Williams and Ceal Smith are climate activists who were among the 50,000 Alaskans to sign the application to recall the governor.
Nonetheless, all three found themselves on the phone in January. Dunleavy initiated the call after reading about Williams’ idea for a hydroelectric megaproject at Eklutna Lake, outside Anchorage, which would tie in with a huge expansion of wind energy across the state.
“We were quite surprised by how enthusiastic he was,” said Smith. “He said he even drove out to Eklutna to conceptualize it.”
Alaska is warming twice as fast as fast as the global average, and even as climate change threatens to impose steep costs here, Dunleavy and other elected officials have continued promoting the oil industry, which underpins the state’s entire economy.
But the plummeting costs and increasing availability of renewable power sources are making their adoption increasingly inescapable, and even major oil companies like BP have expanded into the industry.
Renewables make an especially compelling case in Alaska, where electricity costs nearly twice the national average. And the Eklutna hydroelectric concept isn’t the only renewable power idea to draw Dunleavy’s interest.
The governor has also quietly pitched Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor, on Alaska’s wind power potential, with Buffett responding in a letter that he hopes he can “join forces” with Dunleavy. Executives from one of Buffett’s companies, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, have held a series of meetings with the governor and senior administration officials.
“I know there’s a view, on the part of some, that a Republican governor that is supportive of Alaska’s resource extraction industries, including those around fossil fuels, would not want anything to do with renewables,” Dunleavy said in an interview Friday. “That’s not the case.”
Improvements in technology and decreasing costs of renewable power, he added, “open up some new and tremendous possibilities for Alaska.”
The Eklutna project is still more of a concept than it is a formal proposal, and neither the governor nor Berkshire Hathaway is talking about what could come out of their discussions. But alternative energy boosters say that the governor’s interest reflects a growing political consensus around the benefits of renewable power.
“Things are shifting,” said Smith. “And this is a new place we’re in, that we haven’t been in before.”
The Eklutna hydroelectric project and accompanying wind power investments…