Arctic research conference to highlight how rural Alaska communities approach energy, climate issues

Kotzebue residents walk out on the sea ice as it starts to break up near shore in early June. (Berett Wilber/Alaska Public Media)

Several Alaska energy researchers will be featured during a national U.S. Arctic Research Commission conference this week.

One of the big topics under discussion will be how rural Arctic communities deal with energy and climate issues. Bruno Grunau is the director of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. He’s slated to introduce the climate, energy and equity keynote speeches on the first day of the conference.

“You know, we’re operating and looking in a place of the earth where people have been for 10,000 years and living sustainably for that long,” Grunau said. “So what we’re looking at here is what does the future look like? What does sustainable future look like in this part of the earth?”

Tim Leach is a contractor with the Arctic Research Commission. Leach said a lot of issues related to renewable energy overlap with other chronic problems in rural Alaska, such as water and sewer problems, as well as infrastructure.

“Really with regard to both the provision of electricity and for heat,” Leach said. “Those are two focus areas within this energy sphere that we’re looking at in the conference.”

Deputy Director Cheryl Rosa with the U.S. Arctic Research Commission said they’re eager to hear from Arctic residents on the individual energy challenges their communities face.

“We’ve got remote communities, they’re all very different from one another,” Rosa said. “So there’s very rarely a one-size-fits-all solution for approaches to almost any technology or things that you’re trying to install in remote areas. And it’s very important to work with folks, learn what their needs are, and figure out how to best address them, with them as part of the equation.”

The conference is free and will be held virtually from 8:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Thursday. Those interested in attending can register online. It will also be broadcast live on Facebook.