Story last updated at 1:25 PM on Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Council considers oil prices, energy conservation issues

By Aaron Selbig
Staff Writer

The Homer City Council considered ideas on the subjects of oil prices and energy conservation at their Monday meeting while hearing presentations by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Daniel Lerch of the Cali-fornia-based Post Carbon Institute.

Lerch, program manager for the institute and author of "Post Carbon Cities: Planning For Energy and Climate Uncertainty," gave a PowerPoint presentation to the council during their Committee of the Whole meeting that pondered the concept of "peak oil" -- the idea that production of easily accessible oil has already hit its zenith and will inevitably continue to decline -- and suggested actions that communities like Homer could take to soften the blow of oil price volatility.

Rapidly climbing oil prices affect more than just fuel costs, said Lerch, and communities nationwide are experiencing increased costs in petroleum-based products, construction-related raw materials like asphalt, air travel and even groceries. The economic burden associated with these costs is preventing cities from taking on new capital projects, he said, and could even lead to emergency situations if shortages in fuel and other petroleum products occur.

"This is a serious economic issue when people can't afford to buy gas and oil, but energy alternatives will only happen in this country when the economics force it," said council member Dennis Novak.

"You have to have population density for alternative energy forms to really work," added council member Michael Heimbuch.

Even small cities like Homer have options for lessening the impact of oil price volatility, responded Lerch, including reducing oil consumption, increasing reliance on locally produced food, promoting sustainable businesses and including oil cost analysis in emergency planning. Many of Lerch's suggestions can already be found in Homer's Climate Action Plan, which was approved by the council in December.

Later that night, Lerch presented his ideas before the public at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors Center. (See related story, page 1A.)

Seaton, in Homer after the Aug. 7 conclusion of a special session of the Alaska Legislature, told the council that legislators have taken action this year to reduce the impact of soaring energy costs throughout the state.

Seaton supported efforts to place $50 million into the state's Renewable Energy Fund, a grant program administered by the Alaska Energy Authority that distributes money to various renewable energy projects throughout the state. That money will be added to a growing pot that now tops $100 million.

Legislators also added $60 million, said Seaton, to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which is administered by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and provides financial assistance to Alaskans looking to improve energy efficiency in their homes. Under the program, Alaskans can be reimbursed by the state for costs associated with energy efficiency inspections and the replacement of energy-related household items such as heaters, boilers and windows.

"That was important because the weatherization program has been very popular," said Seaton, who encouraged Homer residents to take advantage of the services offered under the program by contacting AHFC at its Web site,

Also during its Monday meeting, the council:

* Officially said goodbye to city attorney Gordon Tans with a certificate of appreciation "in honor of his 19 years of dedication and providing outstanding legal service to the City of Homer and its residents." Tans is moving to Tanzania to perform missionary work with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.

* Heard testimony from Roland Maw, executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, that fishermen in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are "on a quest to get more king salmon," possibly at the expense of fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula. Although they are seeing a 95 percent return rate on their king salmon, Mat-Su fishermen are complaining to the Upper Cook Inlet Joint Legislative Salmon Task Force about low returns, Maw said.

* Introduced an ordinance that would roll back the city's size limitations on commercial property to pre-2004 levels. Outgoing city attorney Gordon Tans said the ordinance will be necessary in order to comply with the June 20 Alaska Supreme Court ruling in the case of Griswold v. City of Homer.

* Appropriated $60,000 to replace the dock at Ben Walters Park.

n Accepted a $50,000 grant from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for construction of the Reber Trail, a gravel pathway to be built between Fairview Ave. and Reber Rd. The council also passed a resolution awarding a $15,000 contract for design of the trail to William Nelson and Associates of Kenai.

* Postponed until Aug. 25 an ordinance creating an appointed Board of Ethics.