Senate Republican Caucus urges Senate Coalition to Address Energy Needs Now
Juneau – Today the Senate Republican Caucus urged their colleagues in the Senate to address energy relief for Alaskans now. One possible solution, SB 217, sits in the Senate Finance Committee. The legislation would provide a direct reduction to citizens’ electric bills by about $750 a year.
SB 217, introduced at the beginning of this session by Sen. Tom Wagoner, R – Kenai, and co-sponsored by Sen. Gene Therriault, R – North Pole, has sat in the Senate Finance Committee since January 16.
“It’s shameful,” Sen. Gary Wilken, R – Fairbanks, said. “We’ve got $13 billion sitting in a coffee can and we can’t even help people across the state who are hurting. We have nine days left to do something. If we don’t do something while we are here, shame on us.
“We have ways to do it and we have the money,” Wilken argued. “We’ve got the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program already set up that we could fund to provide additional relief to the needy, or there is Senator Wagoner’s bill. We have the means, we have the knowledge, and we have programs in place that we could fund to help. Why wouldn’t we give people a hand?”
During debate on the floor Sen. Wagoner even offered to remove his name from the bill, arguing that if his minority status was causing the bill to be held in committee, he would be happy to let a member of the Senate majority, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, take authorship in order for the bill to move.
“We have energy costs in Alaska all year around,” Wagoner said. “This bill could provide relief to Alaskans now by lowering electric bills $750 in this coming year.Â The way the bill is set up, it could take care of about 90% of all Alaskans.”
Alaskan residents without an electric meter would be able to apply for the same benefit from the Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development.
“The sad irony,” Wagoner pointed out, “is that the state is getting rich with the high price of oil, but our people are being hit hard by those same prices. The windfall we have been busy spending and saving is the very windfall that’s creating the burden on Alaskans.
“While we’re here in the capitol building enjoying the problem of what to do with the surplus, people on fixed incomes, people in Bush Alaska, in urban areas, in Southeast, all over the state, have to decide whether to pay for their medications, their food, or their energy bills.” Wagoner said.
During the floor debate some members of the Senate majority highlighted other bills passed and under consideration that address some long-term energy issues.
“The weatherization bill the Senate recently passed is a good package,” Therriault agreed, “but it doesn’t address the immediate need. Winterizing homes is good for lowering fuel consumption and will reduce the cost to home owners, but we haven’t done anything to deal with costs suffered by home owners now, this winter, or next year.Â It would take a number of years to realize the benefits of winterization. We’re talking about some kind of relief now.”
The relief afforded under SB 217, also called the Alaska Power Cost Reduction Program, would take affect when oil prices reach the level where the state’s ACES tax progressivity is triggered, about $60 per barrel, and stays at that level for at least 12 consecutive months.
SB 217 also sets up a commission that would be tasked with preparing an energy plan to address residential, municipal, and rural community energy delivery and needs in the years to come.