There was often a gulf between the visionary ideas of Wally Hickel and his actions, especially during his second term as Alaska's Governor, from 1990 to 1994. But his selection of the Prudhoe Bay area as land to be conveyed from the Federal Government to the State of Alaska during his first term as governor had a greater impact on the future of Alaska than any other single action by any of our governors. His role in the groundwork for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act had a positive and enduring impact on economic development of Alaska Native communities and corporations.
I've been thinking of Wally lately, as I watched Governor Sarah Palin show former governors Frank Murkowski and Tony Knowles why governors are supposed to have balls. Or, at least guts. Knowles and Murkowski were both doormats for big oil. So were Bill Sheffield - host for the 2007 Don Young pig roast BBQ, when Bill Allen was engaged elsewhere - and Steve Cowper.
Wally Hickel and Sarah Palin are the only Alaska governors to publicly confront big oil and win. Hickel played hardball with big oil as he squeezed one concession after another out of the companies through his able attorney general, Charlie Cole.
Hickel, who built a fortune through contracting, and with his hotel, Anchorage's Captain Cook, was and is a dreamer. In 1972, shortly after his experience as President Nixon's Secretary of the Interior, Hickel oversaw a team researching the future potential of geothermal energy. The team didn't look specifically at Alaska. Much of the research in the paper is out of date, but the premise of the paper remains sound: Geothermal power is a rational alternative means of generating electrical energy. Had the country begun developing geothermal power in the magnitude Hickel's study group recommended in 1972, there would be about a trillion dollars in the U.S. economy that have since fled overseas to pay for oil brought here from the Middle East and Venezuela.
All three Democratic candidates vying for Don Young's sole U.S. House seat have made alternative power generation with renewable resources important issues in their campaigns. Ethan Berkowitz consults with organizations on alternative, renewable energy. Diane Benson has spoken about her hopes that Alaska develop geothermal and other renewable power sources, so that we can be "Iceland on steroids."
The quicker Alaskans dedicate some of our wealth to developing very large renewable resource power sources, the quicker we will be able to broaden and diversify our economy and unshackle our political and economic structures from the thrall of big oil. The quicker we get new representation in the U.S. Congress who are as visionary as Hickel, the better off we'll be as a state.
Small communities off the railbelt are looking for future solutions. Galena is in a long process of negotiating with Toshiba over a small nuclear power plant.