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An Alaska state flag blows in the wind at the Robert B. Atwood Building in Anchorage, Alaska.
David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images

These are tough times in Skagway, Alaska, population 1,183.

“We’re in hard core survival mode,” Mayor Andrew Cremata told CNBC.

In a normal summer, the Southeast Alaska town would be teeming with tourists from the cruise ships sailing the Inside Passage. Residents could drive 15 miles up the Yukon Highway into Canada to run their basic errands, or they could hop on a state-run ferry to the next town over, Haines.

But this year, the cruise ships have just started running again. Cremata is hoping Skagway will see 100,000 passengers this year; in 2019 they had 1.1 million. The border to Canada remains closed to non-essential traffic, and the ferries, part of the Alaska Marine Highway System, are plagued by budget cuts.

“Just getting your family down to go see a dentist or doctor, when that becomes burdensome or overly expensive, there’s a point where people have just had it and move away,” Cremata said.

Multiply Skagway’s situation by thousands of communities and more than 700,000 Alaskans, and you can begin to understand why The Last Frontier finds itself in last place in CNBC’s 2021 America’s Top States for Business rankings.

It is the sixth bottom-state finish for Alaska in 14 years. The state previously achieved the dubious distinction in the first four years of the study between 2007 and 2010, hitting bottom again in 2018.

As difficult as the past year has been in this state and across the country, it presented opportunities that Alaska failed to capitalize on.

Alaska met the pandemic with the best-funded public health system in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation, spending $289 per person per year. That is more than three times the national average. Earlier this year, the state was setting the pace for Covid-19 vaccinations, even in its most remote regions.

As the national economy struggled to regain its footing, Alaska offered a generally business-friendly regulatory climate — its legal system tilts toward business, and the number of state laws and regulations is manageable. The conservative-leaning Tax Foundation ranks Alaska’s tax climate the third-best in the country.

In Skagway, Mayor Cremata said state and federal officials have been extremely helpful through the crisis.

“They are always ready and willing not only to engage us as a community, but individual people and business owners in the community. People that were struggling with problems with unemployment and all these kinds of things,” he said.

And at a time of social upheaval, Alaska offered its relatively diverse population some strong protections against discrimination.

High costs hurt Alaska

So how did Alaska manage to finish No. 50 again in 2021 despite so many advantages going in? In a word: cost.

Cost of Doing Business carries the most weight in this year’s study. As the recovery builds, states are touting low business costs more than any other factor, according to CNBC’s analysis. Alaska is an extremely expensive place to do business.

Even Alaska’s competitive tax climate, which earns points for relatively low property taxes and no personal income tax, includes a top corporate tax rate of 9.4%, among the highest in the country.

A snow covered road with power lines in Kaktovic, Alaska.
David Howells | Corbis Historical | Getty Images

Utility costs are oppressive. Alaskans paid an average of $20.20 per kilowatt hour for electricity last year, according to U.S. Department of Energy data, with even higher rates in remote areas. That was second only to Hawaii, and nearly double the national average. Wages are high thanks to the high cost of living, and office and industrial space — which are in short supply — is pricey.

Cremata said he is worried about how the price of everything seems to be creeping higher.

“Everything’s barged in,” he said. “And so, if the cost of fuel goes up, it affects the rates on the barge and that affects the price of your milk and eggs.”

Indeed, even that high rate of public health funding may be deceiving, because health care in Alaska is so expensive. An office visit to a doctor in Anchorage averaged more than $206 last year, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, C2ER. That is more than twice the cost in Phoenix, Arizona.

Meanwhile, Alaska’s Covid-19 vaccination rate, once the envy of the nation, has fallen below the national average, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medical Assistant Julia Naea administers the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage on March 19, 2021.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

In March, Alaska became the first state in the nation to make vaccines available to everyone aged 16 and older. Officials theorize that meant those who wanted to be vaccinated were quick to get their shots, leaving vaccine-hesitant residents — many in rural or remote areas — who have proven difficult to convince.

Vaccination rates are a metric in the Top States’ Life, Health and Inclusion category, where Alaska finishes No. 19 this year.

Internet access remains a challenge

In addition to its cost issues, Alaska ranks No. 49 in the Top States’ Infrastructure category, above only Maine. It is yet another lost opportunity. Alaska might have been able to use the nation’s move toward remote work to partly offset its inherent infrastructure disadvantages, which include its distance from the rest of the country and its vast size.

This year’s Top States study introduced broadband connectivity as an infrastructure metric. But broadband in Alaska is the worst in the nation, according to BroadbandNow Research.

In Skagway, Cremata said internet service is cumbersome and expensive.

“You have to actually have a landline in your house for it to work,” he said. “So, the internet has a pretty substantial price to it, but then you also have a $30 charge because you need a landline for the broadband to work.”

According to BroadbandNow, fewer than 61% of Alaskans have access to broadband at all, and none have access to a low-priced plan, which the organization defines as costing less than $60 per month. The average speed is a paltry 58.6 Mbps, or one-third the speed in the top-ranked state, New Jersey.

Cremata said that early in the pandemic, when he and other local leaders worried the cruise ships could disappear for five years, they convened a task force to consider ways to reinvent the economy. One of the ideas was to make Skagway an internet hub, but it went nowhere.

“You’d have to have really fast internet, obviously, because you probably want to have all of your communications done in the cloud, which is pretty much impossible right now in Skagway,” he said.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, while speaking at a dedication ceremony for a hydroelectric turbine generator in Igiugig, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 16, 2019.
Luis Sinco | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

In May, Gov. Mike Dunleavy created a task force to recommend ways to improve connectivity in the state.

“On the heels of a global pandemic, now more than ever do we see the critical role that the internet plays in nearly every part of life and the importance of good connectivity for every Alaskan,” Dunleavy said in a statement.

But it is Alaska’s third broadband task force in the last decade, with little to show for the efforts. It is also unclear whether the state can muster the funding needed to bring its service up to date.

In his statement announcing the task force, Dunleavy, a Republican, emphasized the use of federal pandemic relief money to pay for the expansion. And while his administrative order creating the task force also contemplates using state funds, Dunleavy and the state legislature are already locked in a titanic struggle over the budget.

This month, Dunleavy vetoed more than $200 million in state spending approved by the legislature, with cuts aimed at everything from tourism marketing to mental health services.

Dunleavy also vetoed $8.5 million in funding for Alaska’s ferry system known as the Alaska Marine Highway System, a link to the outside world for communities like Skagway. 

And he relentlessly slashed the University of Alaska’s budget, with cuts totaling $70 million over three years. That hurts the state’s ranking in Education, where it finishes No. 47.

Crude oil rebound hasn’t helped Alaska

Hanging over all of Alaska’s business and financial woes is the price of oil, the state’s economic lifeblood. Oil revenues typically account for more than one-third of the state’s budget.

A part of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System is seen on September 17, 2019 in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images

Last year, as weak demand during the pandemic pushed oil prices to historic lows, oil production in Alaska fell to its lowest level in more than 40 years, according to the Energy Department.

This year, prices have rebounded, but production in Alaska has not. Alaska oil producers face much lower cost competition in the lower 48, as well as an intensifying tug-of-war over federal oil leases. Production through April was down nearly 5% from a year ago.

State budget forecasters expect oil production tax revenue will be around $311 million in the 2021 fiscal year that ended on July 1. That would be a 9% increase from 2020, but a 36% decline from the year before.

Those kinds of numbers could make it even harder for Alaska to climb out of the cellar next year.

Cremata said he hopes the crisis will convince Alaska to think beyond its traditional economic drivers including tourism, fishing and oil.

“You can’t think backwards. You have to think forwards,” he said. “Perhaps, this is like a chaos-opportunity moment — where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity, so that people in Alaska, who maybe have been relying on things that aren’t as reliable anymore, maybe try to expand towards some different ideas.”

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Toyota is developing a small bZ electric crossover with… Suzuki?




Toyota is developing a small bZ electric crossover with... Suzuki?

The smallest electric vehicle under Toyota’s “Beyond Zero,” or bZ lineup, is under development. The small bZ electric crossover is reportedly being prepped in collaboration with Suzuki.

Toyota is finally waking up as the auto industry’s shift to electric vehicles heats up. Over the past several months, Toyota has revealed a series of innovations to help it catch up to EV leaders Tesla and BYD.

At a tech workshop in June, Toyota highlighted its next-gen EV batteries, enhanced design methods, and manufacturing upgrades as it aims to boost efficiency.

Toyota plans to launch new electric models with nearly 500 miles (800km) of range using advanced batteries in 2026. Last month, Toyota showed off its future EV production line, including Giga casting tech, self-propelled assembly lines, and robots transporting finished vehicles.

After accelerating its plans, Toyota aims to produce 600,000 EVs in 2025, tripling the 190,000 output expected in 2024.

By 2026, Toyota looks to sell 1.5 million EVs with ten new electric models, including small cars, SUVs, crossovers, luxury, and commercial. With just 0.26% of Toyota and Lexus sales being fully electric last year, the automaker has a big transition ahead.

Toyota bZ compact SUV concept (Source: Toyota)

We got our first look at Toyota’s new compact electric SUV last month in a video teaser posted on social media. Now, we are learning more about an even smaller separate model.

Toyota developing a small electric crossover with Suzuki

According to the Japanese news website Best Car, the small Toyota electric crossover will be jointly developed with Suzuki.

Toyota small bZ electric crossover (Source: Toyota)

Although Suzuki isn’t known by any means as an EV leader, the company has a knack for building small cars.

Earlier this year, Suzuki revealed its first global electric vehicle concept, the eVX. It will show the concept off at the Japan Mobility show alongside a mini eWX wagon EV later this month.

Last year, Toyota and Suzuki deepened their partnership to develop compact electrified vehicles.

Toyota, Suzuki, and Daihatsu electric vans (Source: Toyota)

In May, we got our first look at a new mini-commercial electric van co-developed by Suzuki and Toyota. The companies teamed up to develop a new EV platform for a series of mini electric vans that will be on display at the Japan Auto Show starting October 26.

According to the new report, the small Toyota electric crossover will ride on the e-TNGA platform, the same one used for the bZ4X electric SUV. It’s expected to launch in 2025.

Toyota and Lexus electric concepts (Source: Toyota)

The bZ small crossover was first showcased during a briefing session in December 2021 alongside 15 other EV models, including a pickup, sedan, sports EV, compact cruiser, large SUV, and several other Lexus and Toyota concepts.

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Genesis shares 2024 GV60 pricing, including cheaper RWD trim with ~50 miles more range




Genesis shares 2024 GV60 pricing, including cheaper RWD trim with ~50 miles more range

Genesis USA has just shared pricing and packaging for the 2024 model year of its GV60 SUV. In addition to new standard features, the luxury sub-brand of Hyundai Motor Group has introduced a new rear wheel drive (RWD) that offers nearly 50 miles more range than the 2023 EV models at a significantly lower MSRP.

The GV60 is an all-electric crossover first introduced by Genesis in the summer of 2021 and was really a kicking off point for the luxury automaker on its journey to end all new combustion models by 2025 and be entirely electric by 2030.

In May of 2022, Genesis delivered its very first GV60 to a customer in California, the first state it sold the BEV in. Throughout 2022, we saw Genesis expand the availability of the crossover to new markets in the US, and Electrek’s Seth Weintraub even got a chance to test it out for himself.

This past May, Genesis introduced biometric technology to the GV60 called Face Connect, allowing owners to access and start their BEVs using their face alone without the need for a smartphone or key fob. Today, we learned that Face Connect is one of several features that come standard on some of the new trims of the 2024 GV60 models, in addition to an enticing new RWD variant.

2024 GV60
The 2024 GV60 / Credit: Genesis

Genesis shares 2024 GV60 with better pricing, features

According to details from Genesis USA today, the star of the show for the 2024 GV60 model year appears to be the new RWD variant. Starting at an MSRP of $52,000, this trim features a 168 kW rear motor that offers 294 miles of range (non-EPA).

For comparison, the higher range Advanced AWD trim of the 2023 GV60 offered 248 miles of EPA estimated range. For 2024, the RWD GV60 garners 46 extra miles, or a 19% increase. In addition to the new, more affordable RWD trim, Genesis is introducing a slew of new features that will now come standard on the 2024 GV60 models, including WiFi hotspot capability, Genesis Digital Key 2, Highway Driving Assist II, and Advanced Forward Collision Avoidance-Assist.

The aforementioned Face Connect biometrics also come standard on all 2024 trims. Here’s how the pricing breaks down and how it compares to last year’s GV60 models:

2024 GV60 Trim MSRP* 2023 GV60 Trim MSRP* Price Difference
Standard RWD $52,000 N/A N/A N/A
Advanced AWD $60,550 Advanced AWD $59,290 +$1,260
Performance AWD $69,550 Performance AWD $68,290 +$1,260
* – excludes $1,195 in freight fees

Genesis shared that that the 2024 RWD and Advanced AWD versions of the GV60 are available at select retailers around the US, in the 23 states the automaker currently sells the BEV. The availability of the Performance AWD version will be announced at a later date.

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Virginia is about to get a big 772 MW solar boost




Virginia is about to get a big 772 MW solar boost

Dominion Energy Virginia today proposed more than a dozen new solar projects that will power nearly 200,000 Virginia homes at peak output.

A lot of new solar for Virginia

If the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) approves the proposed solar projects, they’ll generate 772 megawatts (MW) of clean energy for Dominion Energy Virginia’s customers.

Dominion Energy Virginia is the state’s largest utility company, and it serves the most densely populated metropolitan areas such as Richmond, Charlottesville, and northern Virginia. It wants to build six solar projects totaling 337 MW that it will own or acquire:

Project Size Location
Alberta Solar 3 MW Brunswick County
Beldale Solar 57 MW Powhatan County
Blue Ridge Solar 95 MW Pittsylvania County
Bookers Mill Solar 127 MW Richmond County
Michaux Solar 50 MW Henry & Pittsylvania Counties
Peppertown Solar 5 MW Hanover County

Dominion’s proposal also includes 13 power purchase agreements (PPAs) totaling 435 MW with independently owned solar projects. It selected the PPAs through a competitive solicitation process.

Construction of the projects will support more than 1,600 jobs and generate more than $570 million in economic benefits across the state.

In addition to SCC approval, the utility-owned projects require local and state permits before construction can begin. If approved, construction is expected to be complete between 2024 and 2026.

Dominion Energy’s solar fleet is currently the second-largest in the US. If the new projects proposed today are taken into account, Dominion’s solar capacity in Virginia will surpass 4.6 GW – enough to power more than 1.1 million homes at peak output. (For context, Virginia’s population is 8.64 million, and Dominion Energy Virginia supplies more than 2.5 million homes and businesses with power.) Dominion Energy says it’s committed to net zero by 2050 (wish that target was sooner). 

Electrek’s Take

This is welcome news for a state that’s heavily dependent on natural gas, which makes up 57% of Virginia’s total electricity net generation.

Virginia currently has enough solar to power 519,386 homes, or 4,393 MW, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). So it’s not doing too shabbily, as it’s currently ranked 10th in the US by the SEIA for the amount of solar installed.

But there’s a whole lot of room for improvement, as it needs to ditch the natural gas. So this 772 MW of new solar is a welcome boost for the state’s clean energy. Seeing how Virginia is expected to add 6.72 GW of new solar in the next five years, it looks like it’s headed in the right direction. 

Read more: A huge solar + storage + EV project just launched at Dulles Airport

Photo: Dominion Energy Virginia

To limit power outages and make your home more resilient, consider going solar with a battery storage system. In order to find a trusted, reliable solar installer near you that offers competitive pricing, check out EnergySage, a free service that makes it easy for you to go solar. They have hundreds of pre-vetted solar installers competing for your business, ensuring you get high quality solutions and save 20-30% compared to going it alone. Plus, it’s free to use and you won’t get sales calls until you select an installer and you share your phone number with them.

Your personalized solar quotes are easy to compare online and you’ll get access to unbiased Energy Advisers to help you every step of the way. Get started here.

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