U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, on his second trip to Alaska in his current post and his fifth overall, talked about natural gas, renewable energy resources and his agency's work in Alaska in a brief interview Monday.
Asked how current low oil prices impact development of alternative energy resources, Moniz said that the low cost of oil "is good for consumers." The average price of gasoline in the Lower 48 is now $1.73 a gallon.
In the Lower 48, unlike in Alaska, diesel fuel isn't used to generate electricity, so the low price of oil has only a small impact on those renewable resources, he said.
"We certainly still see solar and wind booming," he said.
There may be less interest in electric vehicles when gasoline prices are low, but overall, new requirements are making cars all the way up to big trucks much more efficient, he said.
The United States is now a major exporter of refined oil products, but still imports 7 million barrels of crude oil a day, he said.
Some Alaskans told Moniz that they don't want to see new directives from Washington, D.C., to resolve the problem of high energy costs here. They say the answers need to come from Alaska.
"We do have a substantial presence in Alaska, listening, working, collaborating," he said.
In 2014, the Department of Energy opened an office in Alaska, staffed by a lone employee, but it likely will add three staff members, he said.
Some innovative projects already are happening in Alaska, he said, including a biomass project that would generate both heat and electricity.
"We are working on a whole bunch of novel things," he said. "But there are also major problems here."
Wind energy has great potential in Alaska, he said, yet turbines are expensive to build and maintain in remote villages. With microgrids, isolated islands of power generation that in Alaska may feature a few small villages connected to one another, it can be hard to maintain a stable power supply. Fast broadband Internet opens up new opportunities for monitoring and controlling power use and generation, he said.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is pushing a big natural gas pipeline that could lead to exports of liquefied natural gas. With Lower 48 LNG projects and those in some other countries including Australia already coming on line, and natural gas prices low, did Alaska miss its window?
"There is market risk in any project," Moniz said. "When you are talking about $50 to $60 billion, you have to expect a very healthy return for that risk."
Natural gas prices likely will go back up, he said.
"I think the LNG market is going to be very strong," he said.