- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:

April 2, 2018

Ketchikan Daily News: We the people can decide to assign our Alaska Permanent Fund dividends to government agencies.

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Who knew?

In 1992, the state Legislature banned individual Alaskans from assigning dividends - except to agencies, primarily to which they had a debt. For example, with the court system, for unpaid child support or to the IRS.

Perhaps the Legislature might expand on that. It has for the past two years taken about half of each eligible Alaskan’s dividend. It is likely to take a portion of this year’s, too.

But, what if instead of the state taking, Alaskans had the choice to give their dividend to the state out of concern for eliminating Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit?

Or, maybe Alaskans would prefer to give their dividends to their communities, which have received less revenue sharing from the state since the deficit. The dividend money directed to, for example, Ketchikan, could be spent on any number of local desires, from schools to roads, sewers, waterlines and other general government services. Or local communities might turn around and create their own permanent fund with the contributed dividends.

Statistics show where the dividends are spent. Alaskans contributed $7.4 million of their individual dividends to an University of Alaska College Savings Plan in 2017. Nonprofits received about $2.5 million.

Not all Alaskans would want to participate, but, judging by the response to donating dividends to nonprofits, some would - and likely in significant numbers. When we’re talking millions of dollars annually, that’s significant.

The additional option to assign wouldn’t take away from the college fund nor the nonprofits; it would provide another opportunity to give for those who aren’t giving now.

Alaskans also would be within their rights to keep their dividends. Some save in personal accounts for college. Others need the money for basic necessities to get through the year, particularly in rural and severely economically challenged communities.

This way it would be individual Alaskans’ choice to decide where the greatest need is. Lawmakers could make their case for donations to the state, but other than appealing to Alaskans, they wouldn’t touch the dividends, which energize the state economy in the fall following dispersion.

The Legislature would look at other options for dealing with the deficit.

But whatever the Legislature allows to be done with the dividends, no one will receive a payout this year unless an application was submitted. The deadline was Saturday.

Lawmakers will make their decisions in the coming final weeks of the legislative session, and Alaskans will realize the outcome when payments are made in October.

Perhaps by then or in years to come, we’ll have another option for helping out our state and community.


March 28, 2018

Alaska Journal of Commerce: Gasline project shouldn’t require a Pollyanna press

Other than projecting relentless optimism about the prospects for the Alaska LNG Project, the second constant from its leadership and proponents has been criticism of the press coverage it receives.

Over and over we’ve heard Alaska Gasline Development Corp. President Keith Meyer rip the news coverage of the project as overly negative and damaging in foreign markets.

In this issue we share an opinion piece by two advocates for the Alaska LNG Project who are now channeling Meyer’s press critiques, this time on the topic of the state’s trade relationship with China.

“We should celebrate being an international exporter and be concerned when local voices speak negatively about our business partners around the world,” write the authors Doug Griffin and Tim Dillon of the Southeast Alaska Municipal Conference and the Kenai Economic Development District, respectively. “. As Alaskan economic development entities, we envision a future where we see more and more headlines telling a positive Alaska-China story.”

Touting Gov. Bill Walker’s upcoming trade mission to China, the authors note the country’s status as the state’s biggest export destination with $1.32 billion in products last year, just more than 60 percent of that in seafood.

Meyer spent a lot of time in China over the past year-plus working on a deal that culminated in the signing of an agreement last November outlining a framework that could have the country investing in up to 75 percent of the project costs in exchange for 75 percent of the LNG it will produce.

On the surface, anything that helps turn the dream of unlocking the vast North Slope gas resource into a reality is a positive step. China does need cleaner energy as it has begun literally choking on its own pollution and has more than enough financial resources to invest.

Beyond that, there is every reason to air concerns about the terms China will attempt to extract in exchange for its majority-share investment and what the Walker administration would cede to China in the name of building the project he’s pursued for some 30 years.

And let’s get real: China is not Japan or Korea, Alaska’s No. 2 and 3 trading partners who are also geopolitical allies.

The list is virtually endless when it comes to China’s human rights violations, its cyberattacks on and intellectual property theft from U.S. companies, its currency manipulation, its evading of sanctions on North Korea, its military aggression and expansion in the South China Sea, and so on.

Griffin and Dillon don’t even acknowledge China’s bad behavior on these numerous fronts, and appear to want the press, legislators and business stakeholders to ignore these issues entirely in the name of increasing Alaska trade regardless of who it is with.

They also don’t mention that the vast majority of those seafood exports are reprocessed in China and sold elsewhere through value-adding that we should aim to happen in Alaska and not celebrate as a penultimate trade achievement.

China is ruthlessly aggressive in pursuing its economic, political and military interests and it does not make deals that go against them. A healthy concern or even skepticism is hardly unwarranted when it comes to making a $40 billion-deal with the Communist leaders of the world’s largest economy.

The Walker administration is also asking for unlimited receipt authority for AGDC to accept third-party funds as its stash of previous state appropriations dwindles and its leaders have made the political decision to not seek more money from a cash-strapped state treasury.

Preserving legislative oversight of the deals AGDC is making and what pieces of state resources it contemplates trading in order to advance the project are entirely appropriate and vital to upholding the constitutional mandate to develop resources for the maximum benefit of Alaskans.

Just four years ago Walker was accusing former Gov. Sean Parnell of playing election-year politics for his moves to advance the Alaska LNG Project as an equity consortium with the three major North Slope producers and TransCanada.

Now as Walker pursues reelection his surrogates are asking critics of his plan to be quiet about the path he’s pursuing and with whom he is pursuing it.

The Alaska LNG Project will not - and should not - rise or fall based on the press coverage it receives or the amount of skepticism voiced in the Legislature or business community about its economics or the prospect of dealing with China.

Working the press and leaning on skeptics to keep quiet in the name of more “positive headlines” isn’t going to get the Alaska LNG Project built and it comes off as a sign of weakness more than strength.


April 1, 2018

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: House Bill 382 putting healthy pressure on Railbelt utility groups

House Bill 382 would create a Railbelt Electrical System Authority to oversee region wide planning of energy generation and transmission projects. It would create a unified transmission and generation system and establish open access protocols for this system. This proposed authority would also perform what is called merit-ordered economic dispatch, which is system of using the cheapest and most-efficient power generation source, followed by the second-cheapest and efficient power generator, and so on.

Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, introduced the bill. The session clock is ticking and there are more pressing issues to be dealt with such as the budget, so the bill might not get much traction at this point.

Why should Alaskans care about the bill? Because establishing a Railbelt Electrical System Authority could dramatically reduce the rates for electricity consumers along the Railbelt.

As Janet Reiser, the director of the Alaska Energy Authority, explained during a House Energy Committee meeting Thursday, the six Railbelt utilities are each trying to offer the best rates to their own customers - and to no other customers along the Railbelt - yet they all share the same infrastructure. This is not an ideal situation for such a small population of consumers.

According to a 2015 Regulatory Commission of Alaska letter to the Legislature, “Concerns about the fragmented, Balkanized and often contentious Railbelt utilities have been raised numerous times over the past 40 years. Several efforts have been made to reform and reorganize the Railbelt electrical system, but none have succeeded.”

The RCA’s letter made five recommendations, which HB 382 aims to address.

After the RCA sent its letter, it seems the the Railbelt utilities put aside their differences and started working together. These utilities have also hired a contractor to make recommendations on how to improve without government intervention, which is why four of six utilities reject HB 382.

“The Railbelt utilities understand the value of working together toward solutions. We continue to make progress toward cooperation and move into a future of collaboration that brings value to the entire region. We invite others to do the same,” the letter states. Executive officers of GVEA, Matanuska Electric Association, Homer Electric Inc., and Chugach Electric Association, signed the letter in opposition of the bill.

The Railbelt utilities are getting along fine right now, but the currently congenial business relationships could break down again.

Whether HB 382 fails this session or succeeds, it’s presence has likely nudged the utilities forward toward more collaboration. And, if the utilities don’t progress toward greater benefit of their customers, then the legislation can be reintroduced again and again.

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