Rural Alaskans Left in the Cold

Fair Is Fair: PURPA, Feed-In Tariffs and Other Naughty Words

Dan Fink

By Dan Fink
On and Off the Grid

Published Jan. 17, 2010

Just reading the acronym "PURPA" still sends chills down the spines of some utility company executives. It has terrified them since 1978, when President Jimmy Carter hatched the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act and Congress passed it. Carter called the energy crisis “a clear and present danger to our nation,” and similar language has been used recently by both Bush and Obama.

All PURPA actually did was require utilities to purchase electricity from independent producers, and capped the rate paid at “avoided cost.” This is the price it would have cost the utility to produce the same amount of energy that (for example) a home rooftop photovoltaic (PV) array did over a month. Since utilities can produce massive amounts of energy at extremely low cost using heat from coal, natural gas or nuclear fuels, this avoided-cost rate is only a fraction of what consumers pay to purchase electrical energy each month.

Now the renewable energy landscape in America has changed drastically. Concerns about our dependence on foreign oil, national security, carbon emissions affecting global warming, the creation of “green” jobs, and pollution have launched renewables into the forefront.

But the financial hurdles of installing a renewable energy system for a home or business are often still too high. As you round the bend into a neighboring state, the next hurdle could loom ten feet high, compared to the three-footer you just cleared. Why don't we level the playing field — or at least chop all the hurdles down to the same height? Net Metering is a Good Start
Net metering laws are an essential first step, but the hurdles still vary widely. Net metering is simply the requirement that your electric meter runs in both directions. If you use 1,000 kilowatt-hours (kwh) in a month and your PV array produces 1,000 kwh, your electric bill should be zero. Under PURPA alone, without net metering, what you use might be billed at 10 cents per kwh, but what you produce pays you at only 2 cents per kwh — so you still have to cut a check to the utility every month. This makes net metering a big incentive for home and business owners to install PV arrays.

In fact, access to net metering was mandated federally with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 — but only for publicly owned utilities. Many more rural areas in America are served by private utilities, which are exempt unless state laws are passed requiring them to provide net metering service. Only 35 states currently have some variety of net metering laws, and not all of these apply to all utility companies. Rural cooperatives (REA) are still often exempt.

There's even more inconsistency in the exact meaning of “net metering” in any given state, municipality, or even local utility. What happens when you produce more kilowatt-hours of electrical energy in a month than you use? In some places, the buck stops right there. You don't get a dime for any energy you feed back to the utility. In other locations, the utility will pay you only at their fractional avoided-cost rate. And with some utilities, you still have to pay monthly grid access fees even if you produced as much as or more energy than you used. In more renewable-friendly areas, though, state or local law might mandate you get paid at least the same rate for energy you produce as you pay for what you use, and place limits on grid access fees.
How Can We Encourage Renewable Energy?

It's obvious that even the most conservative most Americans think that reducing dependence on foreign oil is a good thing for our nation. How to do this? Draft some simple rules, and apply them to every utility and home nationwide:

* Guarantee access to the grid for all energy you produce.
* Provide long-term contracts for the purchase of this energy.
* Base the prices paid for your energy on what it actually costs to produce it, not on avoided cost.

There's a well-established way to do this! It's called a “feed-in tariff.”
Is "Tariff" a Naughty Word?

Not really, unless you own an old-school utility and your crystal ball is covered in coal soot. Germany, Iran, Israel, Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, South Africa and China all have national feed-in tariff laws. Australia, Canada and America have them only in certain states, territories, and municipalities. In the U.S. only California, Hawaii and Vermont have statewide feed-in tariff laws.

What makes the utilities cringe is the thought of their retail electricity business evaporating as more and more folks install PV systems on their homes and businesses — the “Million Solar Roofs” effect. But note that feed-in tariff laws are usually self-limiting in how they are drafted. The law might first require utilities to pay substantially higher rates to those who feed renewable electricity to the grid, as it does in Germany. But as time passes or after the market penetration of independent renewables reaches a certain level, the payback rates will gradually change in favor of the utility, often capped at the retail price of electricity. And of course you know the utilities will be deeply involved in drafting any such laws. The intent is for feed-in tariffs to be an economic stimulus for those who choose to invest in renewables, finally making them affordable with a quick payback time — and then drop to a sustainable payback rate for all involved.
Politics and Tax Credits

Notice that I have not mentioned the words “tax credit” until now? That's because current U.S. energy policies toward corporations, utilities and consumers are inconsistent, often wildly so. Tax credits for consumers installing renewable production are proven to increase our made-in-America “distributed generation” capacity—unless you live in a state where net metering is not required. Then you might as well forget it, unless your local utility voluntarily offers this service; your investment in PV won't pay back during your lifetime. It's absurd to offer renewable-energy tax credits to consumers who are hobbled by avoided-cost rates or a lack of net metering, or have no opportunity to feed energy into the grid at all.

PURPA, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 were all steps in the right direction of energy independence. But fair is fair—why are the benefits from these laws not available to every American?

Politics and the big business of energy, that's why. Instead of kicking back and smoking the Hopium, contact your state and federal representatives and senators to make your views known, and demand (at the very least) consistency in federal energy policy. Equal access for all is not such a lofty goal, is it?

Renewable energy author, lecturer and consultant Dan Fink has lived off the grid, 11 miles from the nearest power line, since 1991. He is co-author of the book "Homebrew Wind Power," and his work appears frequently in renewable energy magazines such as Home Power and Back Home. You can email him at dan.fink@sunpluggers.com.


NYT Hensley on Palin

July 25, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
In Alaska, Qiviters Never Win


TEN thousand summers have come and gone here in Alaska and the village people are already preparing for another cold winter by drying and smoking salmon, rendering seal oil and drying the meat and hoping for a bountiful berry season. In the meantime, our governor has called it quits 18 months before the end of her four-year term. She leaves tomorrow, to be replaced by her lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell.

The Inuit have a word, “qivit,” that you do not want to have applied to you. It means to quit or give up when the going gets rough. In traditional times, and that was very recent, if you gave up as a leader you were jeopardizing yourself and everyone around you. It takes a lot of effort to maintain life in the bitter cold of the Arctic.

Things weren’t much different when Alaska became a state 50 years ago. It was you and your family out there, hewing a living from the land and what little cash economy that existed.

In fact, Alaska’s prospects looked dim just a couple of years after statehood in 1959. With a tiny population, inadequate tax receipts, almost no private property of any consequence and only a few thousand barrels of oil a day produced on the Kenai Peninsula, the state’s first governor, Bill Egan, was presiding over what increasingly looked like a failed state.

Three weeks into his first term, Governor Egan, humble and effective, was stricken with an infection after gall bladder surgery and hovered near death. After three difficult months of recuperation, he returned to lead Alaska through the early years of state building that the voters elected him to accomplish. He didn’t have enough revenue to pay for what little government we had, let alone do anything to meet the tremendous needs of its citizens for schools, health care, water and sewer lines, roads and electricity. All that changed in 1968 with the discovery of huge oil deposits at Prudhoe Bay in the northernmost part of the state.

We have had other governors resign, but that is not the same as “qivit.” When President Richard Nixon tapped Gov. Walter J. Hickel to be secretary of interior, he stepped down with the full support of Alaskans to help solve two of the state’s biggest problems — Alaska Native land claims and the construction of the oil pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. In time, the issue was resolved by Congress with 44 million acres and $1 billion for the Alaska Natives, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was constructed by the oil companies for $8 billion. With these problems behind him, Mr. Hickel ran for governor again in 1990, and won.

Finally, crude gold began to flow in 1977 and Alaska was on its way to becoming a full-fledged state, with up to two million barrels of oil a day flowing through the pipeline. Now, that oil is flowing at only 700,000 barrels a day and declining at six percent or seven percent a year. Without oil it is unclear what Alaska will look like in the next 50 years.

The great hope during the Palin administration was that a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the Lower 48 would be built, creating tens of thousands of jobs and providing revenue to help fill the fiscal gap that will come sooner than later. In spite of much political motion, years have gone by with no commitment to build a pipeline. In the meantime, the global economy has soured and other parts of the world are filling the energy gap. The window of opportunity may have closed.

Just like other states, Alaska is faced with many problems that the governor was expected to resolve. But unlike chief executives of some other states, our governor is powerful and can appoint all judges and department commissioners and university regents, and can control the budget. With state revenues subject to the whims of the oil market and appropriations from Congress now uncertain as the country struggles with the recession, Alaska has serious, immediate challenges.

We have high suicide and school dropout rates, and problems of poverty and alcohol and drug abuse. The Anchorage area faces an energy shortage due to declining gas fields and the villages face almost insurmountable energy costs; key resource development projects are languishing, and there is no revenue sharing for Alaska for offshore oil development even though we have 33,000 miles of coastline.

In short, Alaska had a governor who had the stature within the state, nationally and internationally, to deal with our problems. She could have used her position to find solutions to the high costs and financial insecurities of our far-northern state. Instead, she abandoned her role as the state’s leader in midstream, making her the only governor in our state’s history to "qivit" in the true sense of the word, at a time when we need strong leadership. Good luck, Governor Parnell — may the great Arctic spirits be with you.

William L. Iggiagruk Hensley is the author of “Fifty Miles From Tomorrow: A Memoir of Alaska and the Real People” and former Democratic state senator.


Original NYT OpEd


To 'Eskimo' or NOT TO 'Eskimo'

THAT is the question! Video from New Zealand depicts some of the cultural differences.


Canadian Inuit woman at centre of tempest for denouncing name of New Zealand treat

April 23, 2009
Petti Fong
Western Canada Bureau Chief

VANCOUVER–By her own calculation, Canadian tourist Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons is one unpopular woman in New Zealand right now –just because of what she insists she is not: an Eskimo.

The Inuit woman is garnering headlines – and animosity – for suggesting a favourite New Zealand candy, the Eskimo Lolly, is racist and improper.

Veevee Parsons said yesterday she has been shocked at the hostility she has created in the country she loved from the time she arrived two months ago by simply raising the issue of the candy she saw recently in a New Zealand store.

"Calling someone an Eskimo is no longer responsible," said the 21-year-old Parsons, who is from Nunavut but has been on an extended work holiday in New Zealand.

"When I was a kid, they used to call me a dirty Eskimo girl and it's a term that shouldn't be used anymore especially on a candy. Is it right that people go around eating shapes of people of another culture?"

The Eskimo Lolly, described as "cherished" and a "treasure" to New Zealanders, is a multi-coloured marshmallow candy in the shape of a person wearing a thick hooded jacket in front of an igloo.

Veevee Parsons, who is working at an organic farm near the city of Rotorua, said she made the comments to a television station after being interviewed at a tourist information booth she was visiting.

Ever since the story about her complaint aired on one television station earlier this week, Veevee Parsons has been interviewed nearly a dozen times and viewers and readers have been responding by the thousands to her concerns. Most of the response has been personal attacks against Veevee Parsons, with a few telling her to go home and others insisting she shut up. "I eat jelly babies. It doesn't mean that I like to bite small children. It's just confectionary," wrote one reader. "If you don't like it, how about you don't buy it!"

Daniel Ellis, spokesperson for Cadbury/Pascall, the maker of the candy in New Zealand, said in an interview that he's been surprised by the strong public opinions provoked by Veevee Parsons' comments. In the 54-year history of the Eskimo Lolly, there have been only two complaints about the use of the term, Ellis said.

"People felt one of their favourites was being discussed in such a way that they've had to voice their opinion," said Ellis. "New Zealanders are very patriotic."

The company, while it takes the complaint seriously, doesn't intend to change the name.

A non-sports fan, Veevee Parsons said she didn't even know there was a CFL team called the Edmonton Eskimos until her family pointed out to her that that's her grandfather's favourite team.

Veevee Parsons plans to return home to Canada in June and said she intends to send the candy to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in hopes he'll bring the issue up.

University of British Columbia social work professor Frank Tester, who researches Inuit social history, said the term Eskimo, which originated from the Cree language and translates as eater of raw meat, has never been an appropriate term. He said despite complaints, Eskimo Pie is still for sale and one Vancouver bagel shop shows a toothless Inuit poster to tout its soft bagels.

Veevee Parsons' uncle, David Veevee, who lives in Iqaluit, said he's been surprised at the uproar created over his niece's statements about the use of the word Eskimo.

"It doesn't bother me if people down there in the south use the word Eskimo," said Veevee. "They just don't know any better. So maybe if what she's doing is educating them, that's all right. It's just a candy, after all."


Zulkosky Goes to Begich...

Bethel mayor to resign to work for Begich

Sen. Mark Begich just announced that he’s hired Bethel city mayor Tiffany Zulkosky as his rural director.

Zulkosky, who has been mayor since October, will resign from the job to join Begich’s team, the announcement says.

The news came as a surprise to Bethel city clerk Lori Strickler, who I called today to find out more about Bethel’s city government. “I’m kind of shocked,” she said
Zulkosky graduated from Bethel Regional High in 2002, and earned a Bachelor's from Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., in 2006. City of Bethel photo.

Zulkosky graduated from Bethel Regional High in 2002, and earned a Bachelor's from Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., in 2006.
City of Bethel photo.

Strickler said Bethel has a strong manager/weak mayor government. (Unlike, say, Anchorage, where the mayor acts as a kind of CEO.)

According to the Bethel city Web site: The mayor serves as the ceremonial head of the city and the presiding officer at all council meetings.

Zulkosky has been serving a one-year term.

“She was voted by the people as a council member, and then the council voted her to the mayor’s position,” Strickler said.

Zulkowsky also works as a public information officer for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., according to Begich’s office.

Bethel council members, including the mayor, don’t get a salary, Strickler said. I don’t know yet how much Zulkosky will make working for Begich.

Here’s the announcement:

Rural Director Joins Begich Senate Staff
Bethel resident to focus on rural issues and outreach

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has hired Bethel resident Tiffany Zulkosky to serve as his Rural Director. An Alaska Native born and raised in Bethel, Zulkosky will resign her current position as Mayor of Bethel to join Begich’s staff at the end of the month.

“Filling this position is a priority for me given the tremendous challenges facing rural Alaska today,” Sen. Begich said. “Tiffany will be my eyes and ears throughout rural Alaska and will work closely with my staff in D.C. to address those challenges.”

Zulkosky has been serving as Mayor of Bethel since October 2008. Prior to that she served one year on the Bethel City Council and has served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. In June 2008, she was hired as the Public Information Officer for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation serving as the liaison between the corporation and the news media.

“I’ve had a passion for public service since high school, and am thrilled to get the chance to continue that by working for Senator Begich,” Zulkosky said. “My sense of wanting to do more for my community can now be expanded as I work with Alaskans across the state to make the lives of Alaska Natives and all rural residents better.”

Graduating with honors from Bethel Regional High School in May 2002, Zulkosky then attended Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington and graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Communication in May 2006.

Zulkosky will work out of Sen. Begich’s Anchorage office.


Rosenfeld Announces Candidacy

Opposition to Governor Palin - Rob Rosenfeld announces his candidacy for Governor of Alaska

Rob Rosenfeld, a long time spokesperson for social, economic, and rural issues, has formally announced his campaign for Governor on Channel 2 KTUU TV on Friday, February 6th, 2009.

Rosenfeld is a long term political strategist, facilitator, community development worker, rural advocate, soccer player and downhill skier.

Rosenfeld has worked in the non-profit sector for 27 years. He is a long term resident of Alaska who lives on the Kenai Peninsula. He arrived in Alaska in 1989, when he began working on a commercial fishing boat - which later brought him to Kodiak Island, where he remained to work with emotionally disturbed youth and eventually on the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean-up.

Rob has spent the past eleven years working with tribal leaders to create the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. He served as Director for more than 10 years and currently works as the International Policy and Development Advisor to the 66 indigenous communities of the Yukon River Watershed. Rob is known for his passion and his unwavering commitment to rural issues. The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC) has received two awards from Harvard University, where Rosenfeld has been a guest speaker. His speaking engagements have been many, including a speech at a NAFTA conference on the topic of Cross Border Environmental Cooperation. With Rob’s leadership the YRITWC has moved more than 8 million pounds of hazardous waste and recyclable materials from the banks of the Yukon River, often doubling the lifespan of rural landfills. The YRITWC is known for its innovative solutions in addressing solid waste, sewage and energy issues. Recently the YRITWC succeeded in installing the first hydro-electric/run-of-the-river turbine in the United States in Ruby, Alaska.

Rosenfeld has a Masters Degree in International and Sustainable Development and an undergraduate degree in Teaching Adaptive Physical Education K-12. He has worked for 15 years with people with disabilities and has lived in two Central American countries, travelled on 6 continents, and has been to more than 10 countries in Africa.

Rosenfeld will strive to obtain the Democratic nomination for Governor and run against Governor Sarah Palin. He is “running to lead Alaska during difficult times, to address third world living conditions in rural Alaska, and to demonstrate the interdependence of rural and urban Alaska.” His primary areas of focus will be: Economics, Energy, Rural Issues, Education and the Environment. Rob’s many years of development experience qualifies him to be a Hands-on-Governor. His skills are sorely needed in both rural and urban Alaska to effectively address the multiple challenges created by the current situation.

Rob firmly believes that there is “ no silver bullet” to effectively address the energy challenges in Alaska. He will advocate for combined investments in hydro-electric, while maximizing wind, solar, wave, tidal, biomass, and geothermal. In addition, Rob agrees with the importance of utilizing Natural Gas and Propane. Regarding rural issues, Rosenfeld intends to focus on rural issues while demonstrating the interdependence of Rural and Urban, Alaska. “What happens in rural Alaska, almost always has an impact on urban Alaskan social and economic realities.”

Listen to Rob on APRN, Feb 16, 09

Economic issues will be paramount during Rob’s campaign as he will focus on sustainable initiatives that will offer jobs, environmental protection, and improved quality of life for all Alaskans. He will also promote greater involvement with the Arctic Council, with the end goal of forging new trade agreements with Arctic and sub-arctic countries.

Rob serves on the Renewable Energy Alaska Project Board of Directors, the Alaska Forum on the Environment Planning Committee and the Hesperian Foundation Board of Directors.

Rob is disappointed in Governor Palin’s work attendance and follow-through. He promises to show up for work 100% of the time, and to establish an oversight committee for the Governor to ensure checks and balances regarding financial expenditures, travel and work attendance.

He is further appalled with her divisive history of dividing Wasilla and attempts to divide the country. Most distrubing to Rosenfeld is Governor Palin’s blatant attempts to fan the flames of hatred, fear and racism during her Vice Presidential campaign. Rosenfeld indicated that Sarah Palin crossed a line when she fanned the flames of hatred in mischaracterizing President Barack Obama.

For more information contact: robrosey@xyz.net or 907-235-7528



Stevens' Farewell Speech

Sen. Ted Stevens ended his four-decade congressional career today, ushered out by his Senate colleagues with a dignity not shown by jurors in his corruption trial or by the voters in Alaska who declined to return him to Washington for an eighth term.