Governor introduces ‘green bank’ bill in anticipation of federal infrastructure funding

Solar panels in Willow.
Solar panels in Willow.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 2:49 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy has introduced legislation to create a “green bank” in Alaska.

The concept is being used by seven states to finance renewable energy projects and reduce power bills. Alaska’s version would be focused initially in areas like home weatherization and for solar panels.

Chris Rose, executive director of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, is a long-term supporter of an Alaska green bank and coordinated with the governor’s office on the bill. He explained it would use state funds to leverage private sector financing that might not have been otherwise available.

Rose gave the personal example of trying to buy solar panels for his house. He was offered an 8% interest rate on a loan that had a short repayment schedule.

“A green bank could help design loans to reverse those terms, so you might get a much lower interest rate and much longer to pay it back,” he said.

Dunleavy’s proposal would establish the bank, known as the Alaska Energy Independence Fund, by Jan. 1 of 2022. It would require $10 million in initial capitalization from the state’s general fund and it would be operated by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

“This bill and this concept is something all Alaskans can get behind because the focus is cheap, reliable energy opportunities that can benefit all Alaskans on both a micro- and a macro-level,” Dunleavy said through a prepared statement. “With the state’s abundance of renewable fuel sources, like water, wind, and solar, Alaska is poised to be a leader in energy independence for its citizens.”

The interest at a state level mirrors a $100 billion national green bank proposal. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is a co-sponsor on that bill.

President Joe Biden included a national green bank proposal as part of his infrastructure bill. Vice President Kamala Harris supported the idea when she was in the U.S. Senate.

If the federal legislation passes with the current funding formula intact, Alaska would receive $130 million. A state green bank would be able to receive that money and disburse it.

The goal for the Dunleavy administration is for the governor’s bill to be passed by the Legislature before the end of the session to potentially capture that federal funding. With just over 30 days until the 121-day constitutional deadline for the session, that will be a challenge.

Rep. Calvin Schrage, a non-affiliated legislator from Anchorage, chairs the House Energy Committee. He said the bill is a “priority” for the committee, which is set to hold two hearings on it within a week of it being introduced.

“I’m all for it,” Schrage said about the concept of an Alaska green bank, saying it would help increase energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions. The governor’s proposal will still be thoroughly vetted, he added.

If passed by that committee, the bill would need to pass through an additional two House committees before heading onto the House floor. It would then need to head across to the Senate which is hearing companion legislation.

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