Opinions

America’s ‘Last Frontier’ is pioneering our clean energy future

Earlier this week, I met up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to tour Alaskan clean energy projects in my role as U.S. Secretary of Energy. While Alaska is known as the “Last Frontier,” I learned during my trip how this state is pioneering our clean energy future.

Generations of Alaskans have relied on ingenuity to live in a harsh climate and isolated landscape, turning this state into America’s living laboratory of clean energy innovation. One-fifth of Alaska’s electricity already comes from hydropower. More clean energy sources are entering the mix, including geothermal at the Chena Hot Springs in Fairbanks, the Fire Island Wind Development near Anchorage, tidal and wave energy, and even solar.

For Alaska’s diesel-dependent remote communities, especially Native villages, clean energy isn’t just about innovation — it’s about meeting basic needs. Too many rural Alaskans struggle to power and heat their homes, sometimes spending up to half their income on energy. That’s why the Department of Energy (DOE) works with Alaskan towns of all sizes seeking to go “diesel off.” We’re tapping your on-the ground expertise for local projects ranging from river current energy devices in Igiugig, to battery storage in Kipnuk, to hybrid and electric fishing vessels in Sitka. In Fairbanks, I met Robby Strunk, who works at the DOE-affiliated Cold Climate Housing Research Center to make homes more affordable and climate-resilient in his native Quinhagak, a Yup’ik village in Southwest Alaska.

We’re not about showing up with solutions from Washington, D.C. — Native Alaskans’ lived experiences with energy can teach the Lower 48 a few things. Each community is unique, whether rural or urban, coastal or interior, we’re eager to learn from the innovative solutions Alaskans have developed over hundreds — often thousands — of years.

This is all part of DOE’s deep commitment to Alaska, not only through our Arctic Energy Office, which is based in Fairbanks, but through years of partnership with Native communities and climate researchers. That work is helping us understand the local consequences of climate change, which, as the fastest-warming state, Alaska is experiencing more than anywhere. Changing weather patterns are hurting industries, communities and livelihoods. By 2030, these impacts will cost Alaskans $6.1 billion in infrastructure upgrades alone.

Sen. Murkowski understands all this — and it’s why she’s leading the charge for once-in-a-generation infrastructure investments that will give Alaskans more control over their energy and will save them money.

This Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal includes historic investments in roads, bridges, port infrastructure, and clean buses and ferries to help Alaskans get around easier and on less fuel. It will weatherize homes and upgrade infrastructure to help Alaskans save money and be better prepared for climate impacts — including $216 million for tribal climate resilience. It will make sure every Alaskan can drink clean water and connect to the world with reliable internet.

It also means the biggest investment in clean energy transmission in our nation’s history. This includes $25 billion for energy demonstration projects in advanced nuclear, hydrogen, carbon capture and more, plus money for critical mineral extraction to boost domestic supply chains for clean technologies.

All of this is going to create good-paying, union jobs and long-term economic opportunity for Alaskans. And it will help the fossil fuel workers who have powered our nation secure family-sustaining, skills-matched jobs, from running carbon capture to plugging orphaned wells.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal means big things for Alaska, and this administration is going to keep fighting for Alaska’s clean, secure energy future through President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. As I heard Alaskans say often up here: North to the future!

Jennifer Granholm is the U.S. Secretary of Energy. She formerly served as governor of Michigan from 2003-2011.

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