News-Miner opinion: The Fairbanks North Star Borough experiences some of the most intense spikes of PM 2.5 pollution in the nation during winter. Energy costs in the borough remain some of the highest in the nation.
House Bill 374, if passed, would offer Alaskans a way to address both of these issues by allowing on-bill financing through their utilities. Energy consumers could finance a broad range of energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes, businesses or other properties. HB 374 was introduced by Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks.
The bill was originally conceived to provide another way for Interior residents to finance a conversion to natural gas systems and help progress the Interior Energy Project. But the idea evolved. The bill will allow Alaskans to finance solar panels, wind turbines, energy-efficient stoves and other appliances, lighting, weatherization and more.
The legislation would not force this program on utility companies. The companies would decide whether they want to participate in the on-bill financing program, and to which extent.
The concept isn’t new. States such as Texas, Washington, Colorado and Kansas have implemented similar programs.
Golden Valley Electric Association President and CEO Cory Borgeson said the co-op supports HB 374. In fact, he has even testified in favor of the bill. Mr. Borgeson said this gives GVEA another tool for its energy portfolio. GVEA may be able to secure rural utility grant funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help some customers pay for the energy-efficiency upgrades.
The bill doesn’t seem to be facing any opposition, but with 22 days left in the 90-day session, the largest hurdle for the bill may be time.
“HB 374 will be good for Fairbanks – it increases the viability of the Interior Energy Project by assisting residents in their conversation to natural gas. The bill would allow utilities to offer low-interest loans for conversion, renewable energy improvements or energy efficiency,“ Rep. Wool said in an email. “I hope the Legislature ends on time this year. Of course the budget is a priority, but it’s important we work through and pass sensible bills like HB 374 as well.”
HB 374 has passed out of the House Energy Committee and is scheduled for a second hearing Monday in the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
As legislators gear up for their battle over Alaska’s budget, they should be aware of the calendar. Rep. Wool is right that the budget is a priority. And he’s right that there is good legislation that needs to be passed.
Our lawmakers should pass HB 374; it may be doubly important for the Interior, as it would give borough residents one more tool in cutting pollution and energy bills. The bill could also benefit thousands of other Alaskans.