Senate committee examines energy challenges, opportunities for rural and remote areas

Published on April 23, 2018 by Kevin Randolph

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The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources recently held a hearing to examine energy-related challenges and opportunities in remote and rural parts 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,’” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chair of the committee, said. “There is real trouble in too many households when already-expensive energy bills keep piling up. 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.”

One of the hearing witnesses, Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, highlighted both high local costs and recent success stories in southeast Alaska, including new biomass systems for two schools on Prince of Wales Island. Murkowski also asked Venables about federal regulations such as the Roadless Rule and their impact on Southeast Alaska.

“The vast forests that surround our communities are not under local control and access to resources is often difficult,” Venables wrote in his prepared testimony. “The federal government owns and controls over 96 percent of southeast Alaska land. And for too many years our region has faced the hurdles of regulatory barriers and administrative rulemaking that diminishes the opportunities that abound.”

Murkowski and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) recently introduced the Energy and Natural Resources Act, which is currently pending on the Senate calendar. The bill contains provisions designed to benefit remote communities and would open the Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan guarantee program to states to help provide funding for small projects that would not otherwise be possible.

“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.