The rich state incentives that drive deployment of solar energy solutions in the majority of America’s lower 49 don’t exist in Alaska, whose oil-rich resources are legendary. But that hasn’t dampened Alaskans’ laudable enthusiasm for the power of solar energy. If sticking with traditional fossil fuel-fed energy sources is the norm, Alaskans are going rogue over the benefits of solar technology. “Alaskans are forging ahead despite the fact that they don’t have the net metering and state cash rebates available in many other states,” noted Phil St. John, MD, aka Dr. Phil (no, not that Dr. Phil), who this past August helped coordinate the inaugural Alaska Solar Tour. Due to projected weather patterns and limited sunshine Alaska was the first in the line-up of this year’s National Solar Tour activities.
Dr. Phil said he was delighted with the sheer number of site hosts — and the groundswell of Alaskans who participated in the tour. “We expected a handful of tour site hosts, and ended up with 30 who accommodated nearly 500 Alaskans across a 1,200 mile geographic area. Tours ran from Nome to Homer!” boasted St. John, who himself lives on an island. Dr. Phil says it is solar’s value as an independent, cost-cutting energy source that attracted about half the tour’s participants. “One community outside of Wasilla was offered a $250,000 state grant to support interconnection,” he noted. “Considering all the public goods charges, taxes and related costs associated with being attached to a utility, they opted to stick with their independent resources. About 50% of the tour sites featured folks who deployed solar and wind turbines and were living comfortably off the grid. The bulk of them focused on solar thermal technologies, which is usually more cost-effective and tends to have a faster payback than solar electric technologies.”
Dr. Phil lives on an island in the Cook Inlet. He moved to Alaska nine years ago after falling in love with it while on a fishing trip with his son. He had been practicing medicine in solar bellwether California for 20 years. “What my fellow Alaskans have proven here is that solar technology is viable — even when you can see Russia from your house.”