Building Our Energy Future

Alaska’s Future Beyond Oil & Gas

The rapid decline of accessible and affordable Cook Inlet oil and gas is forcing local leaders to prepare for a total transformation of Alaska’s Railbelt, the power grid that stretches north of Fairbanks down to the Kenai Peninsula and provides power for 75% of Alaskans. Whether that transition moves us towards importing natural gas from the Lower 48 or elsewhere or building a new localized energy economy that brings clean energy power and jobs to our communities depends on the decisions made in each electric utility co-op board room on the Railbelt.

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Cook Inletkeeper recognizes that solar, wind, and sustainable hydropower are mature and ready for deployment, and our region is rich in the resources that the next generation of renewables will seek to tap — namely tidal and geothermal power. We envision a local energy system based on these sources that provides energy independence and local jobs, improves air quality, AND mitigates climate change.

The good news is – it’s possible. In 2021 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory conducted a report that outlines multiple scenarios for how Alaska’s Railbelt can reach 80% renewable by 2040 and stabilize rates for utility members.

How can we secure this future?

Is the energy system really a place where community action can make a difference?

Co-Ops: A Lever of Power

For most Americans, the answer is no. Three quarters of the U.S population buy electricity from investor-owned utilities that give them no power over their power. Legislation and the courts are their own only paths to influence whether their grid energy comes from sunlight or coal. A minority of Americans — about 13%, living mainly in rural areas — buy power as member-owners of electrical cooperatives. This includes every electric ratepayer in the Cook Inlet watershed. Belonging to an electric co-op gives you a vote for the directors who make decisions about the energy future.

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Energy Co-op of the Future

Why Local Solutions…

What is an Electric Co-op?

When America began to electrify, lights came on first in cities. It made commercial sense: the city’s affluent could easily foot the cost of power, and urban density meant less line to lay and easier maintenance. Electricity beyond the city made no sense. Powering far-flung farms and villages meant stretching miles of pole and wire into places where fewer people had the funds to cover expenses, much less make it profitable. It seemed the commercial logic of electricity would keep cities aglow and the countryside dark forever.

Rural Americans who wanted electricity had to organize to get it for themselves. In 1940, the farmers of the Mat-Su Valley created Alaska’s first electric co-op, the Matanuska Electric Association. By the end of that decade, Alaskans had joined with their neighbors to create the Kodiak, Golden Valley, Chugach and Homer Electric Associations.

Alaskans created these democratic electric co-ops to secure a better quality of life. Co-ops give us the same opportunity today — a chance to fight for a liveable climate, and affordable, abundant energy.

Cooperative Superpowers

Unlike many electric co-ops in the Lower 48, our co-ops own and control their own power generation. Which means we, as co-op members and unlike most Americans, have a vote in our energy system. And unlike most co-op members, our votes reach the sources of power. The people we elect have direct influence over how we generate our power.

In each spring’s co-op elections, we can enact middle-out change in our energy systems by electing leaders who will champion the transition to renewables and we can hold them accountable by staying engaged as watchdogs and advocates by attending and testifying during the board’s monthly meetings. Through the co-op structure, Cook Inletkeeper is working to build an engaged and informed energy democracy in our communities.