Alaska News Nightly: January 6, 2011

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New Bill Proposes Change in Oil Tax Calculation
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
One of the major goals of the Parnell Administration is to end the year with a plan that will increase oil production on the North Slope.  The governor told several audiences during the election campaign season – and since – that the best way to deal with the state’s financial future is to give oil producers and explorers enough incentives to encourage them to invest more – to turn around the decline in the amount of oil coming through the TransAlaska Pipeline.  So far, he’s been looking at ways to change the current tax regime that came about in 2007.   While the focus has been on more incentives, one of the bills already filed for this year’s legislature takes another approach – change the way the tax is calculated.

NTSB Issues Safety Recommendations Regarding Emergency Locators
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The National Transportation Safety Board has released information that could have implications for Alaska light aircraft.  Wednesday, the agency issued safety recommendations regarding emergency locator transmitters in the aftermath of a 2010 tragedy.

Little Diomede Residents Awaiting Assistance After Possible Firearm Trouble
Ben Matheson, KNOM – Nome
Residents of the Bering Sea island community of Little Diomede are waiting for assistance from state troopers today after reports of possible trouble involving a firearm.

Alaskans Claim Eight Medals at Cross-Country Skiing Championships
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Alaska cross country skiers swept championship trials in Rumsford, Maine this week.   Five of six medals awarded by the U.S. Cross Country Championships went to Alaskans Wednesday.

Lars Flora of Anchorage finished the 15 kilometer men’s classic first, followed by fellow Alaskans James Southam, David Norris and Lex Treinen in that order.  Alaskan Tyler Kornfield finished ninth in that race.

The women’s 10 kilometer classic followed suit, with Sadie Bjornsen finishing first and Morgan Smyth coming in second. Both women attend Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.  Palmer’s Kate Fitzgerald and Anchorage’s Holly Brooks also finished in the top ten in that race.

In all, eight of 12 medals awarded in the championships have been claimed by Alaskans.  The trials are continuing.

Woman Charged as Accomplice in Prisoner Escape
Associated Press
A 22-year-old woman has been charged as an accomplice in Wednesday’s prisoner escape from a Matanuska Valley jail.

Alaska State Troopers say Kosha Lynae Jacob of Wasilla was arrested Wednesday night in connection with the escape of 44-year-old Kent Charles Matte from the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility in Palmer.

Matte was captured Wednesday afternoon as he tried to flee from a Wasilla home, about 15 miles from the pre-trial facility and  about  six hours after he opened a hole in the chain-link  fence of the jail’s recreation yard.

Thursday, Garland Armstrong, the Department of Corrections institutions director, said Matte is now incarcerated in Anchorage in a maximum security cell, awaiting charges by the state.

In a press conference today, Armstrong said the escape incident has prompted an internal review of prison facilities

Those changes could include staffing levels, he said.

Garland said Matte was accepted into Alaska from Idaho under supervision by Alaska probation staff.  He would not comment on the relationship between Matte and Jacob.  Armstrong did say Jacob was one of Matte’s visitors at the Palmer pre-trial facility.

Energy Authority Opening Audit Program Application Period
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The Alaska Energy Authority is opening an application period for its Alaska Commercial Energy Audit Program.    Owners of eligible commercial buildings statewide could be reimbursed up to $6,500 for a qualifying energy audit. Karsten Rodvik is AEA’s spokesman

Rodvik says an eligible applicant would be an owner of a building, either an individual, a corporation or a partnership.

Commercial residential buildings, such as apartment buildings, are not eligible.  The funding for the program comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is providing $390,000 to get the pilot program started.

Rodvik says owners of buildings located in rural areas are also encouraged to apply.

There is a Feb. 15 deadline, although early decision applications are available for those who apply by Jan. 27.

‘Fairbanks First Fuel’ Study Finds Potential for Big Savings
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A new report says Fairbanks could save big by using less electricity, calling energy efficiency “Fairbanks First Fuel.”  The study paid for by the Alaska Conservation Alliance and put together by a California based consultant targets basic efficiency measures and technology upgrades as means to reducing energy consumption.  Fairbanks First Fuel report author Paul Sheldon says replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents or L.E.D.s is a first step.

That’s about an 8th of Fairbanks power load. Efficiency benefits were touted by legislators during a rollout of the First Fuel report in Fairbanks yesterday.  State Senator Joe Paskvan highlighted the recent upgrade to L.E.D. streetlights in Fairbanks and North Pole.

The First Fuel report also lines out major savings available by upgrading to more efficient refrigerators and hot water heaters, as well as installation of smart meters to gauge electricity consumption and change use patterns. The report extrapolates that Fairbanks could half its electricity consumption with a $100 million investment in efficiency upgrades.

The report also offers ways to pay for increased efficiency, including a surcharge on electric bills to support an appliance upgrade program, and rate breaks for off peak usage. Golden Valley Electric runs an “Energy Sense” assessment program that helps consumers gauge and improve efficiency, but GVEA energy specialist Todd Hoener, says the new report could help enhance support for it and other programs.

Hoener says the gains efficiency can offer deserve more attention, citing the constant focus on finding new energy sources, instead of reducing demand.  The First Fuel report is based on assumptions about existing technology and uses in Fairbanks, and participants at Wednesday’s meeting stressed the important of developing actual base line data so that benefits of efficiency investments are clear.

Agency Raises Concerns Over Proposed Hydro Project
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
A state agency says a private hydro-power company has circumvented the public process, in its pursuit of a new development at a remote lake near Petersburg.

Cascade Creek LLC says it’s moving forward with its federal license application, but the company’s recently-revised plans have prompted additional concerns from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which says there should be more review.

Southeast Salmon Trollers Having Solid Season
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
Commercial salmon trollers in Southeast Alaska have seen a better catch this winter season.

Trollers have landed 12,700 king salmon in Southeast, three months into the season. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s regional troll management biologist Pattie says overall it’s been a pretty good season.

The 10-year average catch for this time of the season is 11,500 kings. The winter season opened in early October and can remain open through April, unless the fleet catches 45,000 kings before that date. Last year’s total winter harvest topped 42,000 Chinook.

Skannes says the number of trollers out fishing has been up this winter.

Other weeks have seen effort drop off substantially with bad winter weather keeping permit holders in port. Typically, trolling effort slows down in the middle part of the season and ramps back up again in March and April. Skannes says 79 percent of the regional winter harvest to date has come from three districts.

The price for troll caught king salmon has remained strong this winter, averaging $6.68 a pound for the first three months of the season. Most recently the price is averaging closer to $7.60 a pound.

Bills Related to “Frankenfish” Introduced to the Alaska Legislature
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The controversial proposal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the sale and consumption of genetically modified salmon has sparked opposition from many fisheries organization, environmental groups, businesses and lawmakers from Alaska.