Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)

Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

One proposal to solve the impending energy shortage for Alaska’s population centers is to go back in time. To the 1970s, when coal was king in the U.S.

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt — the population corridor stretching south from Fairbanks, through the Matanuska Valley and Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula — will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade.

The region has lived off the nearby underground warehouse of natural gas from the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet for decades. The energy has been plentiful and generally affordable, but like all good things — particularly oil and gas reservoirs — the bottom of the barrel is in sight.

Looking at a shortage of gas for heat and power generation before the end of this decade, Railbelt leaders are scrambling for answers. They want to know what the state can do to help drillers find and produce more gas from the Cook Inlet region. But if that doesn’t work, they need another solution.

That could mean lighting up interest in burning coal.

Alaska has vast underground coal reserves, so no problem with supply. The high hurdles are environmental, costs and feasibility. All are about as absolute as the law of gravity, but that doesn’t matter to promoters.

A couple of months ago, a dubious report prepared under the sponsorship of an Alberta-based coal-power promoter, which is backed by a mining company with claims in Alaska, suggested that coal is the answer to the Railbelt’s energy needs.

All someone needs to do is develop a coal mine, build a power plant, erect miles of transmission line to get the electricity to the grid and lay miles pipeline to move the carbon dioxide emissions from the power plant for burial deep underground. That last part — sequestering the bad-for-global-warming CO2 underground — is a big part of the business plan. The federal government is paying billions in tax credits for developers who will pump the greenhouse gas where the sun don’t shine.

Coal had its day, and it’s not tomorrow.

More than 20 years ago, coal was the largest power generation fuel in two-thirds of the states. It’s now down to about a dozen. The last large-scale U.S. coal plant was built more than a decade ago. The last utility coal plant of any size went into service in Fairbanks in 2020.

A second idea flowing through the Alaska pipeline of dreams also goes back to the 1970s. People could stay warm and keep their appliances running close to forever if they could get their burner tips on North Slope natural gas. That’s just as soon as someone figures out how to pay billions of dollars to build 800 miles of buried pipeline over hill and dale, which in Alaska means tundra, permafrost, rivers, mountains, snow and ice and earthquake fault lines.

And there is the financial question of how maybe half-a-million people would pay the bills on a mega-billion-dollar project.

No matter, this is Alaska, where nothing has to pencil out if we dream hard enough.

The Alaska Gasline Development Authority, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade chasing the dream of building a pipeline and selling North Slope gas to Asia, has raised its hand and said, forget Asia for now, let’s just build a $10 billion line to serve the Railbelt.

Mostly, it’s a ploy to keep the office open, as the state Senate has lost interest in the gas export delusion and recently voted to eliminate the agency from the state budget.

If people really want to give the agency a job, and hearken back to coal at the same time, change the name to Alaska Coal Development Authority, or ACDC. It would share a lot with the rock band which started in the 1970s. It’s latest album was “Power Up.”

• Larry Persily is the publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel.

More in Opinion

Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Tourists walk the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Let’s get moderate heads together for a solution on cruise ship tourism

Come on Juneau, we’ve got to do better. Once again neighbors are… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Quality of treatment at Bartlett Regional Hospital is excellent

I recently experienced a relatively serious chest injury and received treatment at… Continue reading

Passengers of the Norwegian Bliss look out across downtown Juneau as they wait to disembark on April 17, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
My Turn: Juneau’s economy is not on the line — Ship-Free Saturdays is about better balance

Judging by the “Save Juneau” posters one would think that Juneau’s economic… Continue reading

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature in the House chambers on Feb. 7, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Sen. Sullivan sinks to a new low

Last week, Sen. Dan Sullivan mimicked Donald Trump’s endless stream of baseless… Continue reading

Members of local business organizations greet cruise passengers with maps and other handouts as they disembark from the Norwegian Bliss on April 25, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
A call for collaboration, not restrictions on cruise ship tourism

Please don’t sign. I feel it is time to speak up about… Continue reading

Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser provides an overview of restructuring options being considered during a Community Budget Input Session at Thunder Mountain High School on Jan. 31. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Smearing school board members and the superintendent is vindictive and destructive

A school consolidation plan announced by the Juneau School District (JSD) has… Continue reading

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Letter: Gloomy predictions for ship-free days are a misleading scare tactic

“What? Only one day a week ship-free? Can’t we have Sundays too?”… Continue reading

Most Read