By Heidi Zemach for SCN-
Mike Insalaco presented a well-argued, commonsense approach to why the city should get behind the concept of supporting alternative energy, establish an energy efficiency plan, and create a renewable energy fund for the City of Seward. While speaking at the April 28th 2014 City Council meeting on behalf of the Alternative Energy Group’s new “Seward Economic Grow Plan”, Seward City Council members, staff, and those in the audience were surprisingly receptive to the ideas presented by Insalaco. His presentation was met by thoughtful silence, followed by round of enthusiastic applause rarely seen at council meetings except after awards presentations. Several council members called it a “great presentation” during their council comments, and they vowed to set up work sessions and presentations by experts to further explore the committee’s ideas.
Insalaco is the owner of Alaska Efficient Energy Solutions, a private company that provides renewable energy products and energy-efficiency products and services from an office he rents in Lucky Wilson’s aircraft storage hangar. He’s one of the growing committee of local entrepreneurs and energy experts who have been meeting together for the past year as one of the economic development subcommittees, sponsored by the Seward Chamber of Commerce.
He’s humbled by the depth and breadth of energy-related expertise gathered together in this committee, Insalaco said. Other participants include Alaska SeaLife Center’s staff member Daryl Schaefermeyer, who brought the seawater heat pump system to fruition, thus cutting the facility’s heating costs in half, and Kent Berklund-AVTEC’s Applied Technology Department head. The committee is “ridiculously lucky to have Stefan Nilsson” the City of Seward’s Building Inspector, who has a passion for geothermal, and for promoting energy-efficiency in buildings and their construction, Insalaco said. Nilsson hails from Sweden, and Scandinavia, places far ahead of the U.S. in their use of alternative energy, and which have relied on geothermal heating systems, and other alternative energy sources for several decades. Carl Hughes is a fellow local business owner and “high energy cost victim,” and Jim and Chris Sheehan, of Spenard Builders Supply own their own geothermal heat system. Former City Mayor Willard Dunham is a longtime Alaska-energy organization guru, with experience and statewide connections. Phil Kaluza is an ambassador of Alaska residential energy efficiency programs in private and public sectors, and energy specialist for Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC). Wolfgang Kurtz is a newspaper editor and radio station operator. The committee recently recruited the City of Seward electric department director John Foutz.
The committee’s main goal was to discover and implement ways to entice new businesses to relocate to Seward, encourage old businesses to stay in Seward, or help more businesses stay open throughout the winter season, thus providing better year-round jobs, by lowering and stabilizing energy costs, Insalaco said. The price of energy in Seward is two or three times higher than many other places, making it difficult for businesses to compete, he said. Without decent year-round jobs, and the high cost of energy, it’s difficult for people to afford to live here. Those costs continue to rise, however, making it more important than ever to consider the economic importance of energy conservation.
The committee had originally hoped to discover and support a good renewable-energy project for Seward, such as a city-wide geothermal heat district perhaps, Insalaco said. They soon came to realize that the Port and Commerce Advisory Board was already three steps ahead of them, and had invited Andy Baker of YourCleanEnergy LLC, of Anchorage to address the group and public about that energy form’s possibility at an upcoming evening meeting on May 21st.
The committee decided to initially focus on promoting energy efficiency in existing, renovated, and future city buildings as a way to lower high existing energy costs that ultimately impacts taxpayers. Under its plan, the City of Seward should commit to building all future buildings using only energy efficient building materials and building practices, and to progressively upgrade and/or improve or abandon non energy efficiency in city buildings. The city council would have to commit to the concept of spending a little more on efficiency measures, however, if they wish to lower their future energy costs, Insalaco said.
In the recent past, councils have not been inclined to do so, focusing instead on keeping start-up construction costs low, he said. But he believes there is now a more receptive administration and current council in place who stand ready to work together and plan ahead.
Under the committee’s growth plan, the city would create a self-sustaining green revolving fund that could begin to allow the city to bank a certain small amount of city savings, and then add to it the energy savings it realizes annually through its first energy conservation project. As it grows, some funds also would be set aside, and eventually enable the city to implement alternative energy projects in its facilities. The City of Homer, for instance, set aside a 10-percent depreciation fund, which has now grown to 90 percent, Insalaco said. Meanwhile, it has been knocking down its utility bills really quickly, but only because it has a plan.
“I would encourage you to look a little harder, it can be done,” he urged the council.
Another part of the plan is creating a city-sponsored Energy Efficiency Education Initiative. The city building safety office would provide, but would not require Return On Investment (ROI) information on energy-efficient building practices and renovations, so people could learn the true economic value of things like building with thicker walls or windows, or having better insulation. The city also would reward or recognize people or entities that exceed expectations/standards in efficiency; and create incentives for businesses to use RE, Build Efficient standards.
The committee also would like to see the electric department finally bring forward for council enactment its Renewable Energy Interconnect and tariff ordinance that would allow people with alternative forms of energy to connect into the grid. City officials promised that the ordinance is nearing completion, that it now makes sense, and that they think that council and committee members will like what’s in it.
The energy committee also wants to involve more citizens in the discussions on energy conservation and renewable energy, and allow them to share their opinions and ideas. Several local homeowners and some businesses are already employing wind and solar, and are entirely off the grid, Insalaco said. There are also plenty of federal and state alternative-energy grants available for municipalities and individuals to tap into. Just as it is exciting as it is to consider using geothermal, tidal energy, and ocean-heat pumps, it’s also interesting to consider the prospect of hydropower projects at Lowell Creek and Fourth of July Creek, he said.
Check out his new web page which he hopes will become an online forum for ideas.