Fairbanks, AK - Alaska Governor Bill Walker issued an Administrative Order late last week that directs the Commissioner of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to lead a collaborative statewide effort to improve consumer energy and address energy costs in the Interior.
In a press release announcing the Administrative Order, Walker said he has assigned a member of his cabinet “to bring appropriate parties together to find solutions for reducing Alaska’s energy costs.”
On Tuesday, Walker announced Chris Hladick as the new Commissioner. He’s currently the City Manager for Unalaska. Hladick has previously lived in Galena and Dillingham, so he said he is familiar with the high cost of energy. On Wednesday, he declined to comment, saying he wasn’t ready to speak officially about the Governor’s Administrative Order because he hadn’t seen it yet. He won’t start his new position in the Governor’s Cabinet for roughly another 45 days.
Katie Marquette is a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office. She says Hladick’s new responsibilities come from recommendations the Governor received during a transition conference. She says the state’s current budget situation does not allow for the creation of a new position to oversee consumer energy, so the responsibility will fall to Hladick when he takes on his new job.
"What he will be doing in that new capacity is facilitating the coordination and collaboration of all the different government agencies and organizations that are currently working on consumer energy to make sure everyone is working together," Marquette said. "No one is duplicating someone else’s efforts and everyone is working toward a common goal to make sure that we get there as soon as possible,” she said.
She says the Administrative Order comes in place of a disaster declaration – a move Governor Walked touted during his campaign last fall. “State statute does not cover a disaster declaration for high energy costs," she said. "So, the administration wanted to do something that would have some weight and have results.”
The order also directs the Department of Natural Resources to work with the Alaska Industrial Development Export Authority to assess potential natural gas supplies for an Interior energy development project. The Marquette says the governor is encouraging AIDEA to expedite the process. That call comes after Governor Walker halted the Interior Energy Project Earlier this month. “Basically we’re going to move forward to find news solutions for the goal, which is to provide affordable energy for the interior," she said.
Collaboration between a state agency and a state corporation is not new. But any project that makes use of state land will require permitting from DNR. As well, DNR oversees royalties that come from exploration and production and has a staff familiar with the region. A spokeswoman for DNR says working with AIDEA could help the process. According to the Governor’s office, there is no set timeline for the joint effort.