U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing to examine the electricity sector in a changing climate. The hearing featured witnesses from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC), the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), NextEra Energy, Rice University, and the Analysis Group.
“Over the past several weeks, we have held hearings that looked at the energy markets of today, what could be the breakthrough energy technologies of tomorrow, and worldwide forecasts from the International Energy Agency. In each of those hearings, we’ve heard about the effect that climate change is having on decisions in the electricity sector,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski explained that while the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has limited jurisdiction over climate change, the panel can play an important role in developing policies to promote research, innovation, and efficiency, which will help mitigate climate change.
“The electricity sector is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to climate change, but it is perhaps the most visible and all encompassing,” Murkowski said. “As more renewables come online and the mix of baseload power changes, we must focus on maintaining grid reliability and resiliency. We also must keep energy affordable, while working to advance cleaner energy technologies that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Murkowski and Ethan Schutt, the chief of staff at ANTHC, discussed how rural communities across Alaska are diversifying and transitioning to cleaner energy sources.
“In the Arctic, we’re seeing warming at twice the average of the rest of the Lower 48. It is directly impacting our way of life,” Murkowski said. “Many remote communities in Alaska are heavily reliant on expensive diesel fuel for heating and power. Integrating cleaner energy technologies, often with a microgrid, can decrease reliance on diesel and provide greater reliability.”
Schutt noted there are 184 “traditional Alaska Native communities that are environmentally threatened to some degree by flooding, erosion, storm surge, permafrost melt or other climate change-related conditions. Of those communities, 31 are imminently threatened, 12 are actively planning for partial or total community relocation, and four need to immediately move the entire community—including all of the community infrastructure, housing, and public buildings—to escape life-threatening conditions.”
Schutt also highlighted the interconnectedness of the state’s changing climate, energy prices, and the health benefits derived from access to clean water. Reducing the cost of energy “represents the most significant opportunity” to help make life more sustainable for rural communities in Alaska.
Other witnesses highlighted the benefits of lower electricity bills for consumers and a 28 percent decrease in electricity-sector emissions from 2005 levels. They also described the opportunities and challenges of rapid transition and substantial changes to our power generation fuel mix.
“As our electricity supply mix changes, we need a different grid, one capable of delivering more renewables and new, efficient natural gas generation, while accommodating the retirement of older, uneconomic generation facilities,” said Joe Kelliher, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and currently the executive vice president of federal regulatory affairs for NextEra Energy. He also pointed to battery storage as a breakthrough technology with potential emissions benefits.
“Critical to any climate change policy is that it be market-based and inclusive of the broad range of readily-available clean energy technologies that can reduce emissions – affordably and reliably,” BCSE President Lisa Jacobson said. “Smart policies will focus on leveraging private sector investment and send strong and long-term market signals to reduce emissions.”
Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here, here, and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.