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Alaska Does About-Face on Efficiency Stimulus

Alaska's new governor, Sean Parnell, has told U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu his state is seeking federal stimulus funds for energy efficiency "in the least restrictive manner possible" now that Alaska lawmakers overrode his predecessor's veto of the funds.

Parnell, who replaced former Gov. Sarah Palin when she stepped down last month, said he respects the legislature's authority to override Palin's veto of $28.6 million in energy stimulus funds for Alaska. Lawmakers voted 45-14 to take the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money during special session last Monday.

"Given today's action [by lawmakers], we have applied for the funds in the least restrictive manner possible. I strongly believe that local communities should retain the option to set their own building energy codes," Parnell said. "These funds can be spent for a broad range of energy efficiency and renewable energy purposes. I am committed to making effective use of these dollars to reduce energy costs for public facilities and to support ongoing energy efficiency programs."

Palin vetoed acceptance of the ARRA funds because of concerns that accepting would require more stringent state building codes. In his letter to Chu, Parnell stressed his commitment to preserving the state's autonomy.

"...I do not support mandates on Alaskans that require a one-size-fits-all solution, such as a statewide energy code," Parnell wrote. "Our state has such a great diversity of people, climate, access to resources, and needs; a uniform approach will not work."

Parnell cited a letter from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to the legislature that said lawmakers do not need to adopt a statewide building code in order to qualify for funds.

"Many of our larger communities already have these [efficiency] codes in place and several other communities are considering implementation of energy codes," Parnell told Chu. "Further, the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. requires that any building it finances must meet energy code standards.

"I have received assurances from our state regulatory authority, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, that it will seek to implement general policies to promote energy efficiency and maintain just and reasonable rates while protecting the public, consistent with the ARRA."

According to the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, which supported the state's acceptance of the money, Alaska was the only state to refuse the ARRA money earmarked for energy efficiency.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. on its own has administered about $360 million for weatherization and energy rebate programs, the governor's office said. An additional $125 million has been allocated to renewable energy projects.

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