A Bureau of Ocean Energy Management pamphlet rests on a desk in the Alaska State Capitol on Monday, March 11, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

BOEM Alaska office probes renewables development in Cook Inlet

National Renewable Energy Lab estimates that there are 18 gigawatts of tidal power in Cook Inlet

JUNEAU — The new director of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Alaska Region is rolling out a new model for the future of energy production in Southcentral that prioritizes renewables as much as oil and gas.

When Givey Kochanowski took over at BOEM last October, he brought with him 10 years of experience at the U.S. Department of Energy, where he worked as a program manager for Alaska and as a senior adviser. His Anchorage office employs 44 people and he said he’s focused on broadening BOEM’s focus when it comes to energy.

“Our agency’s DNA is oil and gas and we have active leases in Cook Inlet for oil and gas and on the North Slope,” Kochanowski said. “But since I came to BOEM, we’ve re-postured a bit and opened our aperture a bit wider to include all energy in the offshore. Of that, renewables and critical minerals and carbon storage come to the forefront.”

Alaska needs energy, Kochanowski said, and BOEM is mandated by Congress to be a friendly developer of Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf, which covers over one million acres of federal submerged land off Alaska’s coast. BOEM remains first a regulatory leasing agency, he said, but widening the lens means taking an “energy agnostic approach,” through which oil and gas development coexists with development of renewable energy projects.

Development in Cook Inlet, Kochanowski said, is also uniquely attractive because of its proximity to Alaska’s road system. Many of Alaska’s resources, he said, are “stranded” and not easy to access. The types of projects that come to fruition, Kochanowski said, will be market driven.

“Cook Inlet was kind of the perfect spot — the sweet spot, if you will — because there is infrastructure, there is population that could use the energy, there is industry interest in developing it,” he said. “All the key elements are coming together.”

BOEM commissioned the National Renewable Energy Lab — the only federal lab dedicated to research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and associated technologies — to assess the inlet’s renewable energy potential. That lab estimates that there are 18 gigawatts of tidal power in the inlet — enough to power Alaska “20 times over.”

For the immediate future, Kochanowski said the agency is focused on bringing together a working group of regional stakeholders and maximizing public outreach and engagement.

“Everybody that has something to do with Cook Inlet we’re trying to put in a room together to make it easier to develop projects and to give developers better answers when they are exploring Alaska to make a determination if they want to invest in our state and in our projects,” Kochanowski said.

BOEM’s Alaska team, he said, has already traveled to Kodiak and to the Kenai Peninsula, where they’ve met with the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. The conversations have been “very basic,” Kochanowski said: “What are your thoughts about renewable energy in the offshore?”

Cook Inlet was left out entirely of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s five-year oil and gas leasing program for 2024-2029, which included a historically low number of proposed sales generally. The draft plan came in the wake of low industry interest in the inlet’s federal leases. Hilcorp Alaska, LLC, for example, was the only company to submit a bid during the feds’ controversial Lease Sale 258, which opened nearly one million acres of seafloor to oil and gas development.

It’s tough, Kochanowski said, to balance all interests, but there are federal incentives available for development of renewable projects, such as through the U.S. Department of Energy for wind infrastructure.

“The president has a (nationwide) goal of 30 gigawatts by the end of 2030 of offshore wind and we firmly believe that Alaska should be a part of that,” he said.

BOEM would target leases in parts of Cook Inlet uniquely valuable for the type of development being proposed. Kochanowski said the agency has looked at southern Cook Inlet for potential wind projects but said any infrastructure would be difficult to see from the inlet’s east or west shores.

“We’re talking way offshore,” he said.

Among the groups that BOEM said they’ve already met with regarding their renewables plans is Cook Inletkeeper. That organization has a stated mission of protecting the Cook Inlet watershed and has previously been a vocal opponent of BOEM’s oil and gas lease sales. BOEM, Kochanowski said, is as much an environmental organization as it is a leasing organization and renewable projects have their own environmental impacts.

“If you spill wind, not too much happens,” he said.

Kochanowski said the department isn’t interested in advancing any new development without public buy-in and support. The outreach process, he said, is expected to take about two years, and the department will consider if there is broad opposition to the initiative.

“It we get negative feedback on this across the board — ‘This is a bad idea’ — in my role as regional director, I’ll push back to our national leadership and just say ‘This isn’t the right time and place or project idea to pursue,’” Kochanowski said. “But so far, in our feedback from the Kenai with a diversity of stakeholders, it’s been very positive.”

Ultimately, Kochanowski said he thinks the program is one that could help address state energy issues.

“I believe that there’s a common interest right now to solve energy challenges in Alaska, so all solutions should be on the table,” he said. “We’re not 100% of the solution, but we definitely can be part of the solution.”

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

This reporting from the State Capitol was made possible by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism’s Legislative Reporter Exchange. Alaska news outlets, please contact Erin Thompson at editor@peninsulaclarion.com to republish this story.

More in News

The Alaska State Capitol on Friday, March 1, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska House passes budget with roughly $2,275 payments to residents, bill goes to Senate

The bill also includes a roughly $175 million, one-time increase in aid to school districts that would be paid according to a funding formula

The Kenai River flows near Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. The Riverfront Redevelopment project will impact much of Soldotna’s riverside areas downstream to the bridge. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna riverfront redevelopment planning moves forward

Soldotna City Council on Monday unanimously approved the creation of a project manager to shepherd the Riverfront Redevelopment Project

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Corey Cannon, who plays baseball as part of Soldotna Little League, speaks to the Soldotna City Council during their meeting in Soldotna on Wednesday.
Soldotna Little League receives donation for facility repairs

The city owns the fields, but the Little League leases the land and is responsible for the maintenance of the facilities

Aleutian Airways logo. Photo courtesy of Aleutian Airways
Aleutian airways to halt Homer service during runway project

Service will be suspended beginning April 15

tease
Homer pedestrian pathway project selected for federal funding

The project will create greater nonmotorized transportation access in Homer

Vendors speak to attendees of the Kenai Peninsula Job and Career Fair in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Job Fair draws employers, seekers

The Job Center has options and opportunities to connect people with training, coaching and funding

Vanessa Uei checks in guests during a grand opening for AK Wellness & Tanning in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, April 6, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
AK Wellness & Tanning holds grand opening for new location

The expanded location is along the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai

The Kenai Senior Center’s dining space is readied for the annual March for Meals fundraiser in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, April 5, 2024. (Photo by Ken Aaron, provided by Kenai Senior Center)
March for Meals raises funds to support senior food service

The local event was organized by Kenai Senior Connection and hosted at the Kenai Senior Center

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
An array of solar panels stand in the sunlight at Whistle Hill in Soldotna on Sunday.
Federal grant awarded for Whistle Hill solar project

The annual production of the completed system is estimated to be enough electricity to power 19 homes

Most Read