Moniz touts state’s solar potential at field hearing

Source: Margaret Kriz Hobson, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BETHEL, Alaska — Visiting this southwestern Alaska city on a cold but sunny day, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz yesterday released a study showing the Last Frontier could become a solar energy powerhouse.

Its industry could rank “at least comparable if not favorable to that of Germany, which leads the world in solar PV installations,” he said.

Testifying at a field hearing called by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Moniz said installation of moderate-sized solar PV systems could help reduce the high price of electricity and make remote energy systems more resilient in the state’s rural villages.

The analysis, conducted by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, provides an economic assessment baseline of possible opportunities for solar power in rural Alaska for both the public and private sectors.

“People are surprised that solar can actually be a substantial source here,” Moniz said in an interview. “Part of the secret is that if you look in terms of the competitiveness of any technology including solar, its attractiveness should be gauged by what you’re replacing.”

With some Alaska communities facing electricity costs of up to 50 cents a kilowatt-hour, he said, “the reality is that solar could be very cheap, especially in an isolated context where anything else you do is going to be tremendously expensive.”

Moniz acknowledged, however, that solar projects would face dramatic seasonal fluctuations in Alaska, where sunlight is scarce in the winter and constant in the summer.

Murkowski said the Bethel hearing was aimed at providing other Senate Energy Committee members with a firsthand look at Alaska’s energy problems and some of the innovative solutions under development throughout the state.

“People don’t always think of Alaska as pioneering and innovative,” she said. “What they don’t understand is that we innovate because our alternatives are not acceptable. Just saying that we’re going to rely on costly diesel is not a path to sustainability. It’s not a path that helps our families.”

Other committee members attending the Bethel field hearing were ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington; independent Angus King of Maine; and Republicans John Barrasso of Wyoming, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Steve Daines of Montana.

Tribal training

Also at the hearing, Moniz announced plans to provide $7 million to help inter-tribal organizations and Alaska Native regional corporations train individuals to provide technical energy assistance to Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages in their regions.

Under that program, selected applicants will receive five weeks of energy technology training through DOE, the department’s national laboratories and other entities.

Moniz said the program aims to create a national network of regional, tribal energy experts who can provide the technical assistance needed to implement strategic energy solutions.

Those programs are part of a broader DOE effort to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in Alaska’s Native communities, which continue to experience the highest cost of energy in the nation.

“Alaska offers the rare opportunity to demonstrate the feasibility of technologies for regions and nations of the world that do not have central grids,” he said. “Innovation in this arena will not only help Alaska communities but could provide new technology export opportunities and competitive market advantages for homegrown U.S. companies that develop these technologies.”