Story last updated at 12/10/2008 - 11:29 am
A series of November meetings and diplomatic briefings in Reykjavik, Iceland, confirmed for me that citizens of this North Atlantic nation near the Arctic Circle have a lot in common with Alaska and Alaskans - including familiarity with the bust side (I am confident, temporarily) of the old cycle of boom and bust.
My long-term interest in Iceland has focused on that nation's expertise in geothermal energy. Just think: electricity at a cost of 5 cents a kilowatt. Icelanders enjoy fresh tomatoes and other fresh produce year around, harvested in hydroponic "farms" powered by geothermal energy.
The priority that put me on a plane to Reykjavik was my responsibility as western region chair of the Council of State Governments (CSG-West) to offer, with CSG colleagues, our experience to help Iceland deal with a major fiscal crisis.
A year ago, Iceland was ranked as the most developed country in the world by the United Nations Human Development Index. Then the Wall Street meltdown leap-frogged around the planet and Iceland found itself saddled with liabilities overwhelming its gross domestic product.
A frequent question in our meetings was, "Tell us about your Alaska Permanent Fund. How does it work? How does it benefit people and not just government?" Our answers were positive and realistic as we met with Iceland Prime Minister Geir Haarde and diplomats including U.S. Ambassador to Iceland Carol van Voorst.
In a fascinating segue, time after time the solutions focused on Iceland's low-cost, renewal energy as the answer to its economic and fiscal challenges.
Fully 72 percent of Iceland's energy comes from two sustainable sources: geothermal and hydro. They learned in the 1970s that being hydrocarbon dependent wasn't going to work for an isolated island country. That realization led to innovative technology for lateral drilling techniques to drill into deep aquifers.
Iceland proves you can have a small population in a similar climate to Alaska's with an economic base powered by low cost energy. The energy source itself can lead to businesses that spring out of energy.
Iceland's hydroponic facilities harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables are just one example of successful technical innovation in place and working now. Industries from high-tech artificial knees and hips to exotic algae-based cosmetics and state-of-the-art computer games are headquartered in Iceland. By choice, not necessity.
Iceland's geothermal experts have visited Alaska. They agree that we need a more coordinated strategy toward geothermal energy development that might include infrastructure investment and better geological data.
Geothermal technology is just a beginning. It can be a base that spins off opportunities not yet even thought of. It can supplement any gasline project that we have. It can come ahead of any gas pipeline and we have the geological structure in Alaska to do it.
I am crafting policy legislation to encourage geothermal development in Alaska. It may include tax incentives, infrastructure and an appropriations bill that would fund infrastructure development.
We will look to the Department of Natural Resources for support. We will include experts from Stanford who are working on the geothermal location at Chena Hot Springs and I am in contact with experts at Reykjavik University and other geothermal scientists as well as the builders who actually construct geothermal facilities.
We'll ask, how do the plants run? How do they make decisions where to build geothermal facilities? And our university system can help provide brain power.
We need a policy package that includes tax incentives, language stipulating geothermal energy in the statutes and redefining renewable energy and looking at the Renewable Energy Fund to fund projects.
There's an attitude that almost nothing is ordinary in Iceland. That same attitude fits Alaska.
The ability to provide low cost energy is good for the environment, good for people and good for business. Inexpensive energy is the spark to new businesses.
Sound exciting, Alaskans?
Sen. Lesil McGuire is an Anchorage Republican representing Senate District N.