The Sitka Conservation Society released a report today on the Future of Energy in Sitka that calculates how much energy Sitka uses in a year, how much energy will be needed to sustain the community over the next 20 years, and how much money will be spent on oil if there is not an investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The Sitka Conservation Society has worked in Sitka for 45 years to protect the natural environment of the Tongass and support the development of sustainable communities in Southeast Alaska. This study is part of the Sitka Conservation Society's sustainable communities program which seeks to power Sitka on renewable energy, implement thorough energy efficiency actions, and reduce Sitka's carbon footprint.
Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of the Sitka Conservation Society, explains the rationale behind the study, "We did this study because we wanted to figure out how we could completely reverse our current energy mix in Sitka. Right now, Sitka runs on oil: 75% of our energy comes from non-renewable energy sources while 25% comes from renewable energy. We want to figure out if it is possible to completely reverse that within 20 years. We know that oil prices are increasing because of reduced supply and increased demand. We also know that burning fossil fuels causes climate change. There is an urgent need to shift to renewable energy."
For SCS board member Lexi Fish, the impetus to do this study is all about the future of the community. "The 20 year projection gives us an idea of what the next generation of Sitkans will be dealing with. If a child is born today in Sitka, in 20 years they will be soon considering where to start their careers and family life. Will we have enough energy to sustain our community and economy? Will we have taken continual action to prevent the destructive impacts of climate change? This project gives us an idea of where to start now, so that our future generations will have a solid ground to stand on in Sitka's community, environment and economy."
The study found that Sitka, with a population of 8,881, currently uses approximately 1,585 Billion Btus of energy per year which is the equivalent of almost 275,000 barrels of oil or 465,000 Megawatt/hours of electricity. According to Scott Brylinski, former City of Sitka Public Works Operations Manager and the principal investigator of this report, "Sitka will spend between $1B and $1.5B on oil over the next 20 years. By making investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects now, we can avoid much of those costs and keep dollars flowing within the local economy rather than leaking out of the community through purchase of oil."
Garry White, director of the Sitka Economic Development Association, and member of the Southeast Conference, adds, "Having aviable energy supply is key to economic development and overall quality of life for Sitka. The recently released Southeast Alaska Integrated Resource Management Plan provides some direction and potential paths. Sitka has the opportunity to take information from both reports and shape the direction that works best for our community and our energy future."
SCS's report sought to find solutions that took advantage of local opportunities and proven technology with successfully demonstrated commercial applications. Local business owner Gary Smith, who was interviewed in this study, comments that, "There is no silver bullet solution for meeting our energy needs. It will take multiple initiatives and technologies working together. This presents a huge opportunity for us to create local jobs and a local workforce installing and maintaining energy efficient technology like heat pumps."
"Because of the scale and scope of the issue of energy, informed public and private sector investment is needed to ensure a viable energy supply for SE Alaska communities. The State of Alaska legislature is currently working on legislation related to energy that includes oil tax structures, energy efficiency rebates and weatherization, emerging energy technology research, and renewable energy funds. As can be seen from this report, it is critical that the legislature makes the right decisions on these issues because energy is a critical element for the sustainability of Alaska communities and we know that our oil supplies are running out and we need to think beyond oil," comments Andrew Thoms.
The full report outlines a range of scenarios for Sitka's energy mix over the next twenty years and recommendations on actions that should be taken to ensure a viable energy supply.