Willy Dunne speaks at a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Willy Dunne speaks at a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Assembly votes down energy audits resolution

One of the goals of S.B. 17 is to have Alaska enter into energy service performance contracts valued at $100 million by 2026.

A divided Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted against supporting an Alaska Senate bill that would require energy audits for public schools and certain public facilities and retrofit certain public and community facilities, among other things.

The resolution defeated by the assembly was sponsored by Willy Dunne, who represents the southern peninsula, at the request of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Resilience & Security Advisory Commission. That commission voted unanimously to ask for the assembly’s support for the legislation during its March 10 meeting, which they said may be beneficial to the borough.

One of the goals of S.B. 17, sponsored by Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, is to have Alaska enter into energy service performance contracts valued at $100 million by 2026 for the purpose of retrofitting public facilities, public buildings and public school buildings in a way that results in a net savings in energy costs for the state within 15 years of project completion.

In a letter to Dunne, RSACM Chairman Scott Waterman said the legislation could specifically benefit KPBSD buildings where such projects have been known to be cost-saving opportunities, but that have lacked funding in the past.

“This legislation, if passed, could save the state and the Borough money, improve KPBSD facilities, and benefit the environment,” Waterman wrote.

In his sponsor statement, Begich said the legislation “makes good fiscal sense” and fulfills a promise to bring renewable energy to communities throughout the state. The Alaska Legislature passed a bill establishing a goal of getting 50% of the state’s energy needs from renewable energy by 2025 through H.B. 306, in 2010.

“SB 17 will provide rapid economic recovery by bringing in new investment to support an Alaska-based clean energy industry and reduce the challenges and barriers that may prevent private companies from investing in Alaska’s infrastructure development,” Begich wrote.

Though members of the assembly generally voiced their support for the goal of the legislation, some took issue with the bill’s stated intent to award $100 million in energy service performance contracts.

“This Senate bill has some very broad language in it,” said Richard Derkevorkian, who represents Kenai. “First of all, it’s asking the State of Alaska to spend $100 million they don’t have today while we’re operating at over a billion dollar deficit. I’m going to vote no on that every day.”

Assembly member Bill Elam, who represents Sterling and Funny River, said that while he supports making public facilities more efficient, he agrees that the $100 million figure is too high. Assembly members Kenn Carpenter and Jesse Bjorkman echoed concerns about cost.

Dunne, however, noted that the position of the RSAC is that the legislation could ultimately save money.

“The discussion at the [RSAC] included how the cost of doing nothing is often quite high,” Dunne said. “So by not being proactive in creating legislation to help save energy costs in our schools, we continue to pay more and more every year.”

The resolution failed by a vote of five to four, with assembly members Bjorkman, Carpenter, Hibbert and Derkevorkian voting in opposition and members Cox, Dunne, Johnson and Chesley voting in favor.

More information about S.B. 17 can be found on the Alaska Legislature’s website at akleg.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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