By Jennie Gosché
In late 2019, before the world was completely upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, I was presented a last-minute chance to photograph polar bears outside one of the northernmost villages in the United States — Kaktovik, Alaska. It was an opportunity I couldn't refuse, and as the COVID-19 pandemic now stretches into summer 2020, I'm grateful I accepted.
Polar bears adorn the sign leading into Kaktovik. Jennie Gosché
Kaktovik is an Inupiat native village of around 250 people on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, located on barrier islands at the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. My first trip there took place in September 2016, and I traveled with the purpose to photograph the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population. The coastal region of the Arctic Refuge in fall is a special place to photograph these magnificent animals, as they congregate on dirt and sand spits of land waiting for the winter ice of the Beaufort Sea to make its way to the Alaska shore.
During the late summer and early fall, Inupiat boat owners from Kaktovik guide "tourist" photographers out to view polar bears from a safe distance in the placid lagoon adjacent to the raging waves of the Beaufort Sea. I joined one such group of photographers led by Hugh Rose, a professional photographer and geologist who lives in Fairbanks, and we took a short charter flight from Deadhorse to Kaktovik, landing in a morning snowstorm. But by afternoon, the sun was out and we had three and a half days of sunshine that combined with the ice and snow to create great conditions in which to photograph polar bears.
The welcome sign at the Waldo Arms Hotel. Jeff Stamer / www.firefallphotography.com
We were out in the lagoon twice a day, breaking only for lunch at our hotel, the modest but welcoming Waldo Arms Hotel owned by Walt "Waldo" Audi and Merlyn Trainer — one of only two options for places to stay in Kaktovik when visiting. The boat guides are skilled, and they have to be, because knowledge and awareness of depths in the lagoon is critical to prevent a boat from getting stuck in shallow water.
Polar bear viewing is done by boat for the safety of both people and polar bears. Jennie Gosché
This trip we were in a boat with a heated cabin, a perk since we were there later in the season. Our boat driver, however, told us that at that very same time the previous year, the lagoon was completely frozen over. He shared this as we floated on the lagoon in open water, though ice was visible in places and we occasionally heard pieces rubbing against the hull of the metal boat.
With rapidly rising temperatures, increases in wildfires, thawing permafrost, receding glaciers, eroding coastlines and disappearing sea ice, Alaska and the Arctic are on the front lines of climate change. It has hit Alaska's rural communities and Alaska Native villages especially hard, including villages like Kaktovik. Warming waters and the disappearing Arctic ice cap are also impacting ocean life, from plankton to polar bears to whales. And the decline in sea ice is making it increasingly unsafe for humans and wildlife to travel across it to hunt marine mammals like seals, walrus and bowhead whales.
Coastal erosion is causing permafrost to thaw and break off, here along the Arctic coastal plain in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area of the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska. Brandt Meixell, U.S.Geological Survey
The Inupiat are primarily subsistence hunters and whalers, harvesting whales each summer (in addition to caribou and other wildlife), the meat from which is shared by the entire village. It is a staple of their diet and has been for thousands of years, but as temperatures warm, the lack of ice combined with changes in whale migration patterns and timing could make hunting progressively more difficult.
The Inupiat share their whale meat with the polar bears, something they have done for many years. This gesture provides much needed food for polar bears, especially as they spend longer periods of time on land due to the receding sea ice. When I visited Kaktovik in 2016, my most memorable photo is of a cub on top of whale bones, shaking what looks like animal skin in its mouth.
Bears have learned to scavenge whale carcasses left over from successful whaling hunts. Jennie Gosché
As I returned to the village in late 2019, however, they had moved the bone pile away from the lagoon to an area off-limits to tourists. I was told the bone pile now only stays on land for a short time, and then the bones are pushed into the ocean. Eventually, this change could affect the overall health of the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, as many of them increasingly den on land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and utilize the shared whale meat for sustenance during the summer and early fall before they enter their maternal birthing dens in November.
Which brings me back to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as wild a place as any other on Earth but one also under threat of oil and gas development. While in Kaktovik I learned that there is not a consensus in the village on the question of allowing oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Climate change and impacts to wildlife are serious concerns, so much so that more than 60 village residents signed a petition in 2017 opposing drilling on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain.
Oil production facilities dominate the region around Prudhoe Bay, to the West of the Arctic Refuge. Florian Schulz / www.florianschulz.org
Helping to prevent development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a place that supports the greatest variety of plant and animal life in the entire circumpolar north — is very important to me, not least of all because the U.S. government has admitted it simply doesn't have enough information about the impacts of oil and gas development on the coastal plain to protect its wildlife and other values. Oil drilling will compound the devastating climate impacts already being felt by villages in the region, increasing carbon emissions, worsening climate pollution and further harming front line communities.
Especially now, in the midst of an uncertain present and looking forward to an uncertain future, we need to press pause on Arctic Refuge development. Instead of recklessly rushing ahead, more research over extended periods of time is needed so that we can fully understand the potential impact oil drilling will have on local villages, our climate and wildlife like the majestic polar bear.
A mother nurses her cubs. Jennie Gosché
Jennie Gosché has traveled to the Arctic seven times to photograph polar bears. Having visited the five countries where polar bears are found (Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, the United States and Canada), Kaktovik, Alaska, has become her favorite place to photograph them. Jennie's photography has been exhibited in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Maryland. She is a member of Alaska Wilderness League.
By Kelsie Rudolph
At the 11th hour on Jan. 22, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly extended the initial public comment period in an environmental review process aimed at creating a new management plan (the Integrated Activity Plan or IAP) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). Already, BLM has rescheduled public meetings with little notice, plus the government shutdown is still going strong and the agency has only extended the public process for one week. BLM's current rush job, meant to cater to ConocoPhillips and the oil industry, is unforgivable, especially when compared to the extensive work that went into—and broad stakeholder support that was garnered for—the current management plan.
This IAP process seeks to undo the existing management plan that was put in place under the Obama administration less than five years ago. As part of this effort, BLM is seeking to eliminate important protections for key ecological Special Areas in the Reserve that Alaska Wilderness League and others have fought tirelessly for decades to protect. And as with many oil and gas projects across the country and offshore, the agency is continuing to press forward despite the current government shutdown. On Jan. 17, the Alaska Wilderness League—along with several of our partners—sent a request to BLM asking the agency to extend the public comment period due to the unavailability of staff to answer questions or serve as a public resource. What we've received is one additional week with no notice of the extension, and still no end to the shutdown in sight.
The current management plan, approved in 2013, received strong public support and put in place sensible conservation protections for 11 million acres in the Reserve, setting aside five Special Areas of exceptional wildlife and wilderness value: Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay. President Obama's Department of the Interior (DOI) spent years working with tribal communities, local governments, the state of Alaska, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and the public on this plan. Alaska Wilderness League, along with our partners, was integral to seeing this plan put in place with strong ecological protections. We worked diligently to advocate for key protections within the Reserve—helping to collect and deliver 400,000 public comments, collect 30 regional and local tribal resolutions representing 90 villages across Alaska, and organize dozens of events across the country to educate the public on the importance of Reserve Special Areas.
America's Western Arctic is teeming with wildlife and rich with landscapes worthy of strong protection. For one, Teshekpuk Lake provides vital habitat for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd and includes globally significant Important Bird Areas that support threatened spectacled eiders, king eiders, red-throated loons, dunlins and buff-breasted sandpipers. Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding wetlands are ecologically unique and one of the most important wildlife habitats in the entire circumpolar Arctic. Gray wolves, brown bears, polar bears, spotted seals, the 45,000-strong Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd as well as countless migratory birds all thrive in this area.
Spectacled eiders in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Still, it's no surprise that the drive to open these protected areas in the Reserve, especially Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, stems directly from the Trump administration's favor factory for the oil and gas industry. ConocoPhillip's interest in more acreage within the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is no secret. ConocoPhillips is doubling down on development in the Reserve, pushing forward with current projects and buying hundreds of thousands of acres for future development, continuing to build upon its growing spider web of oil and gas development projects.
The Alaska Wilderness League is committed to doing everything we can to protect the integrity of the current management plan for the Reserve. Any revisions to the current management plan should result in expanding protections in places important to wildlife and local communities, not offering more acres of our public lands to the oil and gas industry. Upsetting this carefully crafted plan to protect public lands in favor of oil and gas development is irresponsible.
Send a message to keep protected Special Areas in the Reserve safe!
Through net metering programs, homeowners who have installed solar energy systems can get utility credits for any electricity their panels generate during the day that isn't used to power home systems. These credits can be "cashed in" to offset the cost of any grid electricity used at night.
Where net metering is available, solar panels have a shorter payback period and yield a higher return on investment. Without this benefit, you only save on power bills when using solar energy directly, and surplus generation is lost unless you store it in a solar battery. However, net metering gives you the option of selling any excess electricity that is not consumed within your home.
Generally, you will see more home solar systems in places with favorable net metering laws. With this benefit, going solar becomes an attractive investment even for properties with minimal daytime consumption. Homeowners can turn their roofs into miniature power plants during the day, and that generation is subtracted from their nighttime consumption.
What Is Net Metering?
Net metering is a billing arrangement in which surplus energy production from solar panels is tracked by your electricity provider and subtracted from your monthly utility bill. When your solar power system produces more kilowatt-hours of electricity than your home is consuming, the excess generation is fed back into the grid.
For homeowners with solar panels, the benefits of net metering include higher monthly savings and a shorter payback period. Utility companies also benefit, since the excess solar electricity can be supplied to other buildings on the same electric grid.
If a power grid relies on fossil fuels, net metering also increases the environmental benefits of solar power. Even if a building does not have an adequate area for rooftop solar panels, it can reduce its emissions by using the surplus clean energy from other properties.
How Net Metering Works
There are two general ways net metering programs work:
- The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your utility company, and a credit is posted to your account that can be applied to future power bills.
- The surplus energy produced by your solar panels is measured by your home's electricity meter. Modern power meters can measure electricity flow in both directions, so they tick up when you pull from the grid at night and count down when your solar panels are producing an excess amount of electricity.
In either scenario, at the end of the billing period, you will only pay for your net consumption — the difference between total consumption and generation. This is where the term "net metering" comes from.
How Does Net Metering Affect Your Utility Bill?
Net metering makes solar power systems more valuable for homeowners, as you can "sell" any extra energy production to your utility company. However, it's important to understand how charges and credits are managed:
- You can earn credits for your surplus electricity, but utility companies will not cut you a check for the power you provide. Instead, they will subtract the credits from your power bills.
- If your net metering credit during the billing period is higher than your consumption, the difference is rolled over to the next month.
- Some power companies will roll over your credit indefinitely, but many have a yearly expiration date that resets your credit balance.
With all of this in mind, it is possible to reduce your annual electricity cost to zero. You can accumulate credit with surplus generation during the sunny summer months, and use it during winter when solar generation decreases.
You will achieve the best results when your solar power system has just the right capacity to cover your annual home consumption. Oversizing your solar array is not recommended, as you will simply accumulate a large unused credit each year. In other words, you cannot overproduce and charge your power company each month.
Some power companies will let you pick the expiration date of your annual net metering credits. If you have this option, it's wise to set the date after winter has ended. This way, you can use all the renewable energy credits you accumulated during the summer.
Is Net Metering Available Near You?
Net metering offers a valuable incentive for homeowners to switch to solar power, but these types of programs are not available everywhere. Net metering laws can change depending on where you live.
In the U.S., there are mandatory net metering laws in 38 states and Washington, D.C. Most states without a mandate have power companies that voluntarily offer the benefit in their service areas. South Dakota and Tennessee are the only two states with no version of net metering or similar programs.
If net metering is available in your area, you will be credited for your surplus energy in one of two ways:
- Net metering at retail price: You get full credit for each kilowatt-hour sent to the grid. For example, if you're charged 16 cents per kWh consumed, you'll get a credit of 16 cents per kWh exported. This type of net metering is required by law in 29 states.
- Net metering at a reduced feed-in tariff: Surplus electricity sent to the grid is credited at a lower rate. For example, you may be charged 16 cents per kWh for consumption but paid 10 cents per kWh exported. Feed-in tariffs and other alternative programs are used in 17 of the states where retail-rate net metering is not mandatory.
Note: This is just a simplified example — the exact kWh retail price and solar feed-in tariff will depend on your electricity plan.
The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about net metering and other solar power incentives in your state. You can also look for information about solar incentives by visiting the official websites of your state government and utility company.
Other Financial Incentives for Going Solar
Net metering policies are one of the most effective incentives for solar power. However, there are other financial incentives that can be combined with net metering to improve your ROI:
- The federal solar tax credit lets you claim 26% of your solar installation costs as a tax deduction. For example, if your solar installation had a cost of $10,000, you can claim $2,600 on your next tax declaration. This benefit is available everywhere in the U.S.
- State tax credits may also be available depending on where you live, and they can be claimed in addition to the federal incentive.
- Solar rebates are offered by some state governments and utility companies. These are upfront cash incentives subtracted directly from the cost of your solar PV system.
In addition to seeking out solar incentives available to you, you should compare quotes from multiple installers before signing a solar contract. This will ensure you're getting the best deal available and help you avoid overpriced offers and underpriced, low-quality installations. You can start getting quotes from top solar companies near you by filling out the 30-second form below.
Frequently Asked Questions: Solar Net Metering
Why is net metering bad?
When managed correctly, net metering is beneficial for electricity consumers and power companies. There have been cases in which power grids lack the capacity to handle large amounts of power coming from homes and businesses. However, this is an infrastructure issue, not a negative aspect of net metering itself.
In places with a high percentage of homes and businesses using solar panels, surplus generation on sunny days can saturate the grid. This can be managed by modernizing the grid to handle distributed solar power more effectively with load management and energy storage systems.
How does net metering work?
With net metering, any electricity your solar panels produce that isn't used to power your home is fed into your local power grid. Your utility company will pay you for this power production through credits that can be applied to your monthly energy bills.
Can you make money net metering?
You can reduce your power bills with net metering, using surplus solar generation to compensate for your consumption when you can't generate solar power at night and on cloudy days. However, most power companies will not pay you for surplus production once your power bill has dropped to $0. Normally, that credit will be rolled over, to be used in months where your solar panels are less productive.
On very rare occasions, you may be paid for the accumulated balance over a year. However, this benefit is offered by very few electric companies and is subject to limitations.
By Rebekah Ashley
Most Americans oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, a majority of us "strongly oppose it." This broad public concern echoed through the halls of Congress during Alaska Wilderness League's Wilderness Week, when more than 25 people from around the country (as far as Alaska and as young as six months) convened in Washington, DC, in late May to advocate for the protection of the Arctic Refuge. Collectively, our group met with more than 60 offices in just three days.
The experience reaffirmed our role in the lower 48, where even though our day-to-day existence is far removed from Arctic Alaska, we must stand for the protection of the Arctic Refuge and ask our representatives to do the same.
"An assault on one community is an assault on all of us," said Adrienne Titus, an Inupiat and a community organizer at Native Movement. "An assault on one tribe is an assault on all of them."
Wilderness Week participants were given an overview of the past year in activism—that is, the grassroots support that has ramped up across the country since the Arctic Refuge was opened for drilling including rallies, district office meetings, community events, letters to the editor and the collection of hundreds of thousands of public comments on the issue.
We also learned about recently introduced legislation to undo the GOP mandate to lease the Arctic Refuge for drilling. This bill is a reminder that there are people in Congress who have and will continue to listen to public concerns for indigenous rights and environmental protection. It is crucial that our congressional representatives hear from us if they have not already signed onto this important bill.
Rebekah Ashley (right) with her sister Elisabeth (center-right), Noa Banayan (Alaska Wilderness League, center-left) and Adrienne Titus (Native Movement, center-front)Alaska Wilderness League
Meeting Our Reps
To make sure that offices in both the House and Senate were hearing from constituents in the states they represent, Wilderness Week participants were divided up by geographic region. I was lucky to stand alongside my sister Elisabeth to represent New York, and we were joined by others from across the northeast. Lis and I built off our shared experiences in meetings with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's office and our representative Elise Stefanik (who we were able to flag in the hall and speak to directly). We also met with neighboring districts in upstate New York including offices for Reps. Claudia Tenney and Tom Reed, and other nearby states including Maine, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland.
"I cannot comprehend why something that would be looked at as inexcusable in one community could be put on another," Lis said as we wrapped up our meetings. And it's true, states in the lower 48 have opposed offshore drilling because of the irreversible effects drilling poses on communities, ecosystems and the already changing climate.
Public Forums and the Canadian Embassy
During our second day of meetings, Wilderness Week participants attended a forum by the Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee, led by Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-NM) and Jared Huffman (D-CA) focusing on the dangers of opening Alaska's Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Later on, we attended an event hosted by the Canadian Embassy highlighting Canada's ongoing support for the Arctic Refuge and protecting its coastal plain. Gwich'in villages stand throughout Alaska and Canada, and at the embassy Gwich'in representative Donetta Tritt spoke to the importance of the Porcupine Caribou Herd to the survival of the Gwich'in people, and Canadian leaders reaffirmed their commitment to stand in solidarity with the Gwich'in to protect the herd.
Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-NM) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA) discuss the Arctic Refuge across from Donetta Tritt, Rebecca Goodstein, David Hayes and Jamie Rappaport Clark.Alaska Wilderness League
At the Canadian Embassy, Donetta Tritt of the Gwich'in explains the relationship the Gwich'in people have with the Arctic Refuge and the porcupine caribou.Alaska Wilderness League
Whether you're calling your members of Congress or speaking to them in their congressional offices, these steps can seem small compared to the challenges we're up against. That's why Wilderness Week was an amazing chance to connect with people from the broader community who are also committed to protecting the Arctic Refuge. It was also an opportunity to learn about the issue from those who have experienced it firsthand. While we still have a long way to go, people like those I met at Wilderness Week make the journey worthwhile.
The BLM Public Hearing
Several weeks later, I traveled back to DC with folks from my local community, including more of my family, to attend the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) only public hearing on Arctic Refuge leasing not being held in Alaska. This event allowed the broader public to share testimony and express their concerns about the leasing process for the Arctic Refuge directly to a panel representing BLM.
A packed house was on hand in DC, the only public hearing on Arctic Refuge leasing being held outside of Alaska. Alaska Wilderness League
Outside of the hearing, a rally took place where hundreds of people lined the streets in opposition to BLM. Many of those who weren't fortunate enough to secure a spot testifying at the hearing shared their story at the rally instead. Wendy Hall from the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge shared her opposition for oil development in the Arctic Refuge because of the impacts it will have on global ecosystems and contribution to climate change.
My mother, Sandra Ashley, a teacher's aide at Lake Placid Middle School, gave testimony about the destructive message that drilling in the Arctic Refuge will send to her students and shared essays on their behalf that underscored the concerns that children feel for protecting wildlife.
Another friend of ours, Craig Stevens, a sixth generation land owner from Montrose, PA, held up a bottle of contaminated water from a sink in Pennsylvania during his testimony to remind the BLM how extractive industries can have an impact on our communities.
And Garett Reppenhagen of Vet Voice Foundation, a veteran of deployments in Kosovo and Iraq, shared his story about using outdoor therapy to help in the recovery process for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Garett Reppenhagen of Vet Voice Foundation describes his experiences in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Alaska Wilderness League
By the time the hearing came to a close it was after dark. BLM had heard countless concerns for protecting wildlife and fragile ecosystems, mitigating climate change impacts, standing up for indigenous cultures, and more. It was a reminder that Americans overwhelmingly oppose oil development in the Arctic Refuge, and instead believe this area must be protected once and for all.
Investors Controlling $2.5 Trillion Stand With Indigenous People Against Trump Plan to Drill 'Sacred' Arctic Refuge… https://t.co/ggRjhskZaM— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1526421606.0