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Alaska energy woes fuel hearing with Rep. Don Young

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Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2012 11:39 pm | Updated: 1:53 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — U.S. Rep. Don Young collected testimony Thursday in Fairbanks about the high cost of energy in Bush Alaska but said not to expect much energy relief from Congress.

Stories of high fuel costs abounded at the hearing at the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly Chambers. Panelists included leaders from the Tanana Chiefs Conference; Doyon, Limited; and the Gwichyaa Zhee (Fort Yukon) Tribal Government. They told of $12 per gallon diesel costs and electricity at $1.05 per kilowatt hour.

“We’re all feeling anxious pending the arrival of the spring fuel barge,” said Melody Nibeck-Edgmon, the tribal energy program manager for the Bristol Bay Native Association. “It’s entirely possible that many of my neighbors may not be able to pay their fuel bills and still buy food and the other necessities of life.”

She said her personal energy bill in December was more than $900.

Young, a Republican, held the hearing as the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, which is under the House Natural Resources Committee. He blamed the Obama administration for contributing to the high price of oil by not doing more to allow additional oil development in Alaska.

The high prices, Young said in his opening comments, are “threatening the village economy, culture and way of life that has stretched back to time immemorial.”

Panelists said a major obstacle to lower costs was funding, both for short-term relief for villagers spending most of their income on energy and for capital to develop renewable energy projects.

That’s not likely to materialize Young said, because of the entire country is suffering from the energy high prices, albeit not as severely as Alaska villages.

“It’s hard to convince people in the Lower 48,” he said. “Alaska gets a Permanent Fund Divided check. We’re the only state in the union that’s got a surplus. I try to tell them this is only in the urbanized areas. I try to tell them we’ve got some challenges in the rural areas.”

Although he has always been a strong advocate for fossil fuels, Young was supportive of the renewable energy projects in the villages. He had many questions for panelists about village renewable energy projects such as a biothermal project in Fort Yukon and a small hydroelectric facility at Doyon’s Kantishna Roadhouse inside Denali National Park.

Chris Rose, who testified as the executive director of the nonprofit coalition Renewable Energy Alaska Project, emphasized the power of energy conservation. Grants and rebates made through the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. have helped some 15,000 homes cut consumption by about one-third since 2008, he said.

Quite a bit of attention was devoted to a proposed hydroelectric dam proposed at Lake Chikuminuk 125 miles from Bethel that could supply Dillingham, Bethel and a number of smaller communities in the Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta. But Young predicted getting permission to build a transmission line across a national wildlife refuge would be a major hurdle that could require an act of Congress to overcome.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.

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