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September 10, 2010

Chris Rose ’90 Advocates for Renewable Energy in Alaska

This is the fourth in a weekly series of stories profiling Oregon Law alumni whose class reunions occur this fall.

After practicing criminal defense law for close to twelve years, which he describes as “something I liked, but not the main reason I went to law school,” Class of 1990 graduate Chris Rose embarked on a way to pursue his passion for environmental law and policy. Chris Rose '90

“Everything I was interested in intersected at energy,” Rose states. “At the time there was no education or advocacy group for renewable energy in Alaska.”

So, in 2002, Rose began the planning efforts for the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP), now the authority on renewable energy in the state. Rose says the toughest challenge to getting REAP off the ground was organizational rather than ideological.

“It was hard at the beginning to build that credibility that we needed, and to figure out all of the different stakeholders and organizations that should be involved.”

In addition to the usual suspects — environmental and consumer groups — Rose, went to electric utility companies asking if they would be interested in joining his project. In 2004, sixteen organizations gathered in one room and REAP was born with Rose, as executive director, leading the way for a state with a vast amount of untapped renewable resources.

There was, however, the challenge of what Rose calls, “the oil and gas veil” over the eyes of so many Alaskans who have a difficult time seeing beyond the only energy generators they’ve ever known — and the resources that fuel 90 percent of the state’s economy. Due to a lack of infrastructure, rural Alaska continues to pay some of the highest prices for gasoline and electricity in the nation, despite being the second-largest producer of oil in the United States. Most remote villages depend on diesel-run generators to provide electricity for homes and businesses, and on fuel oil to generate heat.

Rose saw that the state he loves could benefit exponentially from the development of cheaper, more stable, and environmentally sustainable methods of electricity production, heating, and transportation.

Now, six years later, REAP has grown from a two-person operation to having six fulltime staff and two interns, and quintripling in size from sixteen organizational dues paying members to more than seventy.

“We are adding new members all the time and have grown in visibility,” Rose says. “Businesses from outside the state are joining our efforts because we are opening markets for developers.”

Rose is a Des Moines, Iowa, native who earned his undergraduate degree in 1983 from the University of Iowa with highest distinction in Political Science and a certificate in Global Studies. He worked as a fundraiser for various non-profit public interest groups around the country, spending several summers in Alaska, before entering law school to study environmental law.

“I went back to law school because I knew I wanted to practice environmental law. That’s the reason I went to Eugene, but I knew Alaska was where I wanted to live right after law school.”

Rose looks back on his law school days fondly, and still gets together with many of his former classmates for rafting trips. He says that as a lawyer he often hears horror stories from his colleagues about their law school experiences.

“A lot of other lawyers absolutely hated law school. That just wasn’t the case for me,” Rose says. “Law school was some of the best three years of my life.”

Those three years certainly are paying off, especially in Rose’s recent work. After nearly six years of planning and development, 2008 proved to be REAP’s breakout year. In that year alone, REAP garnered $460 million in appropriations for renewable energy and energy efficiency. This was the result of REAP’s work in crafting, finding sponsors for, and ushering through House Bill 152, which resulted in the creation of the Alaska Renewable Energy Grant Fund and state appropriations of $150 million since 2008 for renewable energy projects.

In 2008, REAP also helped the legislature pass Senate Bill 289, which committed $360 million to energy efficient programs in the state (compared to roughly $150 million in total spent by Alaska between 1980 and 2008). Additionally, Rose was appointed by the governor to serve on the state’s Renewable Energy Grant Fund Advisory Committee, which helps the Alaska Energy Authority recommend projects for funding to the state legislature.

It looks as though REAP has gained that credibility it sought in the early years and, according to Rose, the organization is now “circling back” and driving the conversation towards energy efficiency, which he says should be the first thing people focus on when thinking about any energy development.

Most recently, Rose and REAP helped usher House Bill 306 through the state legislature that sets a goal to reduce per capita electricity use in the state by 15 percent in BY 2020. The bill also established a goal for the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, one of the most aggressive renewable energy goals in the country.

“Now, we are the trusted voice for renewable energy in Alaska.”  

Related Links:

2010 Class Reunions

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David Brown ’80 Put his Financial Savvy to Work

Matt Mattson ’00 Has Spent a Decade Helping to Rebuild the Snoqualmie Nation

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