What is a Resilience and Security Advisory Commission and What Will it Do for Us?
The borough assembly is holding public hearings on an ordinance to establish the commission on June 16.
How can the commission make sure that we are prepared for hazards that are on the rise on the Kenai Peninsula? By coordinating with climate researchers and the federal and state agencies who manage more than three-quarters of the land on the Kenai Peninsula to ensure that the most relevant data are used to develop strategies for increased fire, drought, flooding and erosion. Here’s some examples—
- Promote better coordination among land management agencies, ensuring that climate change and borough interests are always considered in planning and decision making.
- Collaborate with researchers and insurance providers to develop fire, flood and erosion risk models and maps essential for protecting towns, roads, utility infrastructure, and vital natural resources.
- Mitigate the projected 66% increase in the value of homes and businesses at risk to wildfire in the next 50 years on the Kenai Peninsula by helping to create an interagency private lands forestry initiative–similar to the federally funded spruce bark mitigation task force–to strategically increase green space and reduce fire risk
- Identify locations for small reservoirs to ensure isolated communities have drinking water year round, some of which could provide electrical generation if developed as pumped hydro.
- Help implement FireSmart development by assessing the need for underground wiring in strategic locations and using highways and boulevards to act as firebreaks.
How can we improve the efficiency of our buildings and transportation? The commission could help make sure that capital projects, like school renovations, include a life-cycle cost analysis. They could also help locate funding to make hospitals and schools and the other 150 borough buildings more efficient. There is a lot of money and energy that can be saved—
- The Municipality of Anchorage is projected to save $3 million in energy costs every year from school energy upgrades.
- The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation did a statewide audit in 2014 and found that energy efficiency improvements on public buildings could save $21,800 in energy cost savings per year per building.
State residential energy efficiency programs have assisted more than 40,000 households in becoming more energy efficient, saving residents on average 20 - 35% of their home energy use. Alaskans are saving an estimated $22 million annually on heating bills due to the Home Energy Rebate Program. If homeowners spend the $22 million in savings locally, that spending generates about 240 jobs a year. Can the borough find money to do a similar program on a smaller scale? Can this commission help make that happen?
Electric Vehicle operation can be three to five times cheaper than gasoline and diesel powered cars. Homer Electric Association is interested in developing more electric vehicle charging stations and the commission could create a program to coordinate existing businesses to integrate charging stations into businesses on the peninsula.
How can we improve our landfills? We can extend the lifetime of our landfills—by helping plan for and implement local glass recycling and composting. We can also generate power! The commission can help our borough follow through on a plan to make energy out of landfill gas.
How can we promote local food production and distribution? We can help the borough develop strategies to boost local food production, processing and distribution through education and smart investment, for example—
- Public education and internship programs to train young people interested in food production and processing.
- Shared cold-storage to extend the period of time farmers can sell their produce.
- School gardens.
Ninety-five percent of the $2 billion of food Alaskans purchase is imported — meaning $1.9 billion leaves the state each year as Alaskans eat. Kenai Peninsula residents can generate $1.1 million in the local economy by purchasing an additional 10 % of their produce locally.
The Borough Agriculture Initiative is an idea to make some borough lands available to farmers—the commission could help coordinate with farmers, soil and water experts, etc. to help bring this idea into reality.
As our streams warm, the commission can ensure that salmon streams are shaded and cold water refugia are protected.
How can we diversify our grid and lower our energy bills? Bradly Lake Hydroelectric Project is a model for the future of local energy on the Kenai Peninsula. It makes energy at $0.04/kWh! This is among the lowest energy rates in the entire state. As the supply of oil and gas in Cook Inlet continues to go down and the price continues to rise, we need to develop other local energy options. This commission will work with electric utilities and energy experts to diversify our local energy sector. Solar, wind and hydro all need to be explored—
- There are several hydroelectric projects that HEA needs money and support to get going. Wind resources near Bradley look promising. Lakes can be used as batteries. We can work with utilities to come up with some good projects and come up with the start-up capital.
- 76.68 KW of solar capacity on Anchorage’s Egan Center will pay for itself in 7.5 years. Other buildings that use a lot of energy would be smart to solarize.
- The US renewable industry directly employs over 3.3 million people. These investments make good jobs.
Will this cost the borough money? This is a volunteer commission. The only staff time needed is someone from the Planning Department to take notes for public records. The point of the commission is to save the borough money by improving building and transportation efficiency, help bring down energy prices through diversification, prevent large-scale fires, drought, flood and losses to our fisheries—all of which are enormously expensive. It will also support long-term job creation in local food production, processing and distribution, efficient building, renewable energy and sustainable fisheries. For example, consider that Kenai Peninsula residents could generate an additional $1.1 million in the local economy by purchasing 10 percent more of their produce from local growers.
Won’t this just increase bureaucracy and red tape? This is not growing government; it is growing public participation in government. The commission will increase transparency and public involvement in decisions on how our money is spent. The commission will be made of public volunteers and the ordinance says it is their job to involve broad participation from across the entire borough through online media and digital meetings.
Ultimately, it is up to all of us how much we participate. If we don’t make decisions, other people will make them for us.
Is this government overreach? No. KPB is a second class borough, which means that it has the power to—
- provide garbage, solid waste, and septic waste collection and disposal
- provide transportation systems
- provide air pollution control
- provide water pollution control
- housing rehabilitation and improvement for energy conservation
- provide for economic development
- study the need for improvement in the timely delivery of emergency services to residents of the participating municipalities
How will commissioners be chosen and will people with an agenda take over? The mayor will nominate members and they will be appointed by the assembly. The ordinance says that people on the commission shall be appointed based on their “experience in at least one of the ten areas defining the scope of the commission,” which includes:
- Increasing the lifetime of landfills.
- Improve cost and energy efficiency of buildings.
- Improve cost and energy efficiency of transportation.
- Increase use of local, clean energy.
- Support hazard mitigation planning that accounts for changing environmental conditions.
- Improve food security through support of local agriculture, protection of the ecological integrity of fish and wildlife habitat, protection of water resources, and other means.
- Conduct cost-benefit analyses of sustainable resource initiatives.
- Actively engage and communicate with borough communities to develop and institute sustainable resource initiatives through community workgroups, task-forces, online media, etc.
- Seek funding to support the work of commission.
- Other similar efforts focused on protection of our natural resources, economy, security and wellbeing.
There is room for the Mayor and assembly to bend the language of the ordinance outside of its intent, and it is up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen and we stay on the path for resilience.
Will the commission have any power? There is not a state statute that would allow a commission like this to have power (like the one that gives the planning commission platting power), so the commission can only offer advice to the assembly, mayor, and staff. How much influence that advice has depends on who is on the commission and who is elected to office. We hope that the commission can develop a collection of sustainability solutions that can be implemented when the moment is right. If the commission can show their worth, the borough may grant them funding to do their work, such as have energy assessments made; contract with experts to create tax incentives for investments in efficiency and renewable energy.
How will issues be prioritized? The ordinance says the commission should “collaborate with borough staff, communities, utilities, agencies, universities, and the private sector to lead the development and modification of strategic planning to mitigate and adapt to significant changes in our environment,” and the 2019 Comprehensive Plan says that it should create a Climate Action Plan. If funding is available to write a Climate Action Plan, that document will guide the priorities of the commission as well as borough administration. Until then, the commission has to prioritize issues that it can get done and make sure it is supporting the borough administration and assembly.
Will this be a waste of time and energy? That is up to us who live here and who care about the future of this place.
Funding for research, assessments, compensation for time the commission spends on proposals, and the creation of a borough staff position to support the commission are long-term goals that will make the commission much more effective. The commission will not be paid —COVID 19 makes it a very difficult time for the borough to come up with money––and they will probably need to prioritize finding grant funding for the work they want to do, like energy assessments and lifetime analyses for building renovations.
Don’t we already have a Borough Planning Commission? Yes, but the scope of the planning commission is narrow, with a focus on platting. Unlike the planning commission, members of the Resilience and Security Advisory Commission will be experts in fields from agriculture to renewable energy to efficiency to fire management. Ideally, the two commissions would work together on issues of common concern, such as the Borough Agriculture Initiative to provide decision makers with the right information at the right time.