Biden administration launches series on Arctic energy

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

Members of the Biden administration on Wednesday launched a series of events aimed at exploring the Arctic’s potential to act as a “living laboratory of clean energy innovation.”

Officials participating in the online event, billed as “ArcticX,” spoke of the challenges faced by remote communities in Alaska’s Arctic region, such as high energy costs and impacts from climate change. During the event’s broad discussions, they said they see opportunities for sustainable or renewable energy systems.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of four planned online events, with an in-person gathering set for May in Alaska. Among the speakers was U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Offices that fall under the department co-hosted the event.

“We hope to combine the world-class expertise of our national labs, of our 17 national labs, with the know-how that Arctic communities have developed over centuries of innovation in the far north so together we can get new technologies out of the lab and into the field and onto the market and support communities in taking control of their own clean energy future,” Granholm said.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable sources accounted for about 30% of Alaska’s electricity generation in 2019. Many rural communities rely largely on diesel electric generators for power, the agency said.

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David Turk, deputy secretary of the Energy Department, said there are unique challenges to commercializing technologies in the Arctic. He noted seasonal variability for certain clean energy resources, such as low-light in the winter, variable wind conditions and hydro sources freezing in the winter. He also cited changing conditions, such as thawing permafrost, and the potential for supply chain disruptions.

But he said there are opportunities for localized solutions. He said communities have different needs and many aren’t connected to centralized infrastructure. New technologies will have to be adapted to climate change, he said.

Separately, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced the Department of Defense had selected Anchorage as the location for the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies.

The Pentagon had been considering Colorado Springs, Colo., and Washington, D.C., as possible locations.

The center, named for the late longtime Alaska senator, will be one of six regional centers for security studies under the department and the only one specifically focused on the Arctic, according to Murkowski’s office.

Congress created the Ted Stevens Center with a $10 million appropriation. 

The Defense Department says it will next focus on available facilities for a final site selection.

Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin contributed to this report.

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