Energy Committee Examines Rural Energy Solutions

April 19, 2018

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to examine energy-related challenges and opportunities in remote and rural areas of the United States.

“In Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, North Dakota, and any number of states, too many people are living on the edge of what Senator Tim Scott and I call ‘energy insecurity.’  There is real trouble in too many households when already-expensive energy bills keep piling up,” Murkowski said. “Now, where there is challenge, there is also opportunity. Certainly that's part of the reason why we are seeing innovation to bring costs down in many rural and remote areas, often by adding locally available resources such as hydropower, wind, geothermal, or woody biomass onto microgrids.”

Murkowski has introduced broad legislation, along with Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), to modernize U.S. energy policy. Their bill, the Energy and Natural Resources Act, is currently pending on the Senate calendar. It contains many provisions to benefit remote communities, which often are disconnected from the grid and receive power from electric cooperatives or small municipal utilities. 

“I think we all recognize that rural energy is a priority for many members of this committee. And I think we all recognize how important it is to tackle the challenges that these Americans face through smart, effective policies,” Murkowski said. “In our energy bill is the effort to open the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program to states, to help provide financing for a larger number of small projects that would not otherwise be considered.”  

Murkowski asked one of the hearing witnesses, Robert Venables, the Executive Director of the Southeast Conference, about energy needs in southeast Alaska. Venables highlighted both high local costs and recent success stories, which include new biomass systems for two schools on Prince of Wales Island. Murkowski also asked Venables about the impact that federal regulations such as the Roadless Rule have on project and consumer costs.

“The vast forests that surround our communities are not under local control and access to resources is often difficult. The federal government owns and controls over 96% of southeast Alaska land. And for too many years our region has faced the hurdles of regulatory barriers and administrative rule making that diminishes the opportunities that abound,” Venables wrote in his prepared testimony. “Over the past two decades more and more areas of the natural resources (energy, timber, mining) have become off limits, extremely difficult to access or permit, or when permitted, become uneconomical to pursue and utilize. The Tongass Land Management Plan is problematic on many fronts – especially when decisions are being made in D.C rather than locally.”

Murkowski is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Archived video of today’s hearing may be found here. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for witnesses.