Here’s a Bold Idea: Renewable Energy Dividends for Taxpayers

Have you heard about Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend? It’s a fund that takes profits from “mineral” investments, ie. oil companies, and cuts a check to legal residents of The Last Frontier, aka, Alaska.

Photo by Glenn Fay

The state owns the $64 billion dollar Alaska Permanent Fund, and disburses somewhere between $300 and over a thousand dollars each year to each and every resident. Part of the original purpose of the fund when it was established in 1976 was to invest for a time when the oil will be gone.

What a nifty idea, slicing a small bit of enormous profits from the big oil companies who pump posionous oil out of the ground and possibly, the ocean floor, ship it and burn it all over the world, contributing to the destabilizing climate, and then turn around and hand everybody money! Some people might wonder if this constitutionally-mandated program has some unintended consequences. After all, oil money is hard to turn down and may be influencing people to support big oil in an era when it is abundantly clear we need to move away from fossil fuels.

But recently, in order to shore up the fund, the Governor of Alaska vetoed $440 million, and $130 million of that goes to the Unviersity of Alaska. In fact it comprises 40 percent of their funding. The university is writing pink slips and among the casualties will be the Arctic Research Center. This is good news for climate change contrarians. Not only does wiping out science-based research help shore up the Permanent Fund but shuttering the climate research program will help delay the dissemination of climate change knowledge and action.

Here’s a different idea. Instead of handing out money to residents, let’s have some stipulations on it. After all, no responsible parent hands their children money with no responsibility or strings attached. What if the “mineral royalties” funded a thermal efficiency and renewable energy program for residents?

The consequences would be obvious. Residents would save money on their energy bills. Less carbon would be put in the air. And the savings in money and to the environment would be immediate and permanent.

Photo by Glenn Fay

Statewide efficiency programs thrive other states. In the small state of Vermont, since 1999, a statewide efficiency utility called Efficiency Vermont helped real people keep a million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and saved them $200 million dollars.

Vermonters are able to get rebates for energy audits and insulation, energy-saving devices like thermostats and light bulbs to name a few. The dividends helped change the way people live for the better.

And Vermont didn’t have a huge windfall from oil companies to work with. Imagine the imperative for action in Alaska, where glaciers are melting 100 times faster than they previously thought, and buildings are sinking into melting permafrost.

Alaska could be a new frontier for wise energy investment. It has the modus and opportunity to make big changes and renewable energy dividends that pay help citizens save money on energy and keep carbon out of the atmosphere would be a smart investment to say the least.

Author of Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen: Patriot, Commando and Emancipator by Arcadia/The History Press, University of Vermont EdD.

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