Alaska Editorials

June 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

June 4, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Remembering lessons of World War II

Friday, America will observe the 70th anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy on D-Day during World War II. But there’s another World War II anniversary this week that holds much significance for Alaska. Seventy-two years ago today, Japanese planes completed a two-day raid on Dutch Harbor that brought the war home to Alaska residents, and a few days later on June 6 and 7, Japanese army troops invaded the Aleutian islands of Kiska and Attu. The attacks were a shocking reminder to Alaskans and the rest of the United States of just how near an invasion by a foreign power could be.

The attack on Dutch Harbor caused 44 deaths and 71 injuries, and a few Alaskans still survive who witnessed the only air raid in the Last Frontier’s history. At the time, there was ample reason to believe more raids could follow shortly, and that realization — coupled with the ground invasion of the Aleutian chain a few days later — kicked efforts to ramp up Alaska’s military presence into high gear. Suddenly, a 1935 speech given to Congress by retired Army Gen. Billy Mitchell looked prophetic. “I believe that in the future,” he had said, “whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.”

When Mitchell had given the speech in the midst of the Great Depression, his words had fallen on deaf ears. But with the rise of air power in combat and the advent of jet aircraft just months away, the globe was shrinking fast in summer 1942. Alaska, a territory that before had seemed remote and far from everything, suddenly looked close to both fronts of the war — and for that reason, both a strategic asset to the U.S. war effort and a potential liability if enemies could establish a beachhead.

Alaskans rallied to the war effort, enlisting in the military and serving as civilian support. In the case of Maj. Marvin “Muktuk” Marston and his Alaska Territorial Guard, thousands of Alaskans — many from Native communities who had little contact with the U.S. government but felt a strong duty to the territory and nation alike — volunteered to patrol and guard against further attacks. Those volunteers were as young as 12 and as old as 80 in some cases, but all understood that Alaska needed them. And as the Dutch Harbor attacks and the invasion of the Aleutians had proven, and the Lend-Lease program with Russia would later reinforce, the territory’s location would come into play on both fronts of the war.

If anything, the strategic value of Alaska’s location has increased since the bombs fell at Dutch Harbor. Supersonic aircraft can reach well across the Pacific from Alaskan bases, and as the geopolitical balance tips away from traditional European powers and toward Asia, the military has announced it will pivot its focus to face east. That’s good news for military assets in the state, and it’s likely why Eielson Air Force Base, less than a decade after escaping outright closure, is now on the short list as a candidate to receive the Air Force’s next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Alaska’s military history has well borne out Gen. Mitchell’s view of its strategic location. And as the U.S. learned 72 years ago this week, the state’s proximity to potential hot spots can also be a liability if it’s not adequately equipped to detect and repel attacks. Alaska’s residents, historians, and political leaders have taken that lesson to heart in the years since foreign jets dropped bombs and troops marched ashore within our borders. We hope that in Washington, D.C., those events and the message they send are equally well remembered.

June 1, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Cheap, plentiful coal still will power the Interior for decades to come

Few would accuse coal of being the fuel of the future. It’s out of step with trends toward alternative energy, relatively dirty to burn, and an old technology. Coal, after all, is what fueled the initial industrial revolution 200 years ago, a time not noted for its efficiency or kindness to workers or the environment. Though coal has few arguments for its future as a source of electricity and heat, the arguments it does have are powerful. Coal is cheap, coal is plentiful, and here in the Interior, coal is close at hand.

It’s for those reasons that nearly every power plant or generation facility in Interior Alaska runs on coal, and that even utilities and organizations who are eager to add renewable fuel sources to their mix still use coal as the backbone of their fuel supply in the 21st century.

The most recent cost-benefit analysis of coal-fired power here in the Interior was completed a few years ago by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as they took a hard look at options for replacing the aging coal-fired boilers at the heart of their combined heat and power plant. Among power producers in the Interior, UAF has shown a strong organizational commitment to sustainability, as evidenced by their Cold Climate Housing Research Center that looks at ways to cut heat and power use through more efficient technology and homebuilding techniques. UAF has a Sustainable Village project that attempts to make as little impact as possible on outside resources, and the south-facing wall of its Student Recreation Center is covered in solar panels. And yet they ultimately chose to commit to coal for their heat and power needs over the next several decades, for the straightforward reason that no other energy source comes anywhere near coal’s affordability. When errant squirrels in power generation equipment force the university to switch over to petroleum-fired options, as happens occasionally, UAF’s cost of power generation multiplies by a factor of six. The university rightly realized that more environmentally sustainable power sources are nowhere near economically sustainable — and barring unforeseen advances in technology or yet-unfunded megaprojects like a natural gas pipeline or the Susitna-Watana hydroelectric dam, they won’t be for decades to come.

Fortunately for those concerned with what burning all this coal might do to the local air, soil or water, emission control for coal power plants is an area where new technologies can be added to old generation facilities. In Pennsylvania, a plant long considered one of the nation’s dirtiest is now close to compliance with stricter federal Environmental Protection Agency standards, and closer-to-home power plants like Eielson Air Force Base have seen bag house facilities lead to a marked decrease in airborne pollutants. While coal can’t rightly be considered a clean technology when compared to wind, solar, or even most other petroleum-based fuel sources, it’s certainly gotten cleaner in recent years, and there’s reason to believe it can continue to do so.

Ultimately, there’s a distinct positive aspect to being locked into coal for the foreseeable future. The massive coal deposits in Healy are sufficient to match current demand in the Interior for decades — and as Fairbanks residents are well aware after half a century waiting for the arrival of natural gas, the presence of a fuel source that’s stably priced, abundant, and readily available is an asset that can scarcely be overvalued.

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