Tribal Energy Summit: Arctic Opportunities for Indian Country

Highlighting the administration’s national security strategies, the Arctic Council Chairmanship, the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, and the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage, moderator Capt. Mark Davis of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) brought attention to the Arctic challenges for Indian country. Focusing on increased access to oil, gas and minerals, and increased accessibility to Arctic maritime routes, Davis said the U.S. and Arctic peoples must leverage science, technology and innovation.


Panelists included the following:

  • Jacqualine Qataliña Schaeffer, Project Specialist, Energy WHPacific, Inc.
  • Kip Knudson, Governor Bill Walker’s Senior DC Representative, State of Alaska
  • Givey Kochanowski, Alaska Program Manager, DOE’s Office of Indian Energy


First, Schaeffer highlighted that Arctic people are no different than other indigenous peoples of the nation: all are connected to place and land, which binds the people together as people of America, but the thread that binds the community together is energy and to better the lives of the people.


Schaeffer discussed her role in working with tribal and city governments in sharing the transportation and energy challenges of the rural communities of Alaska. Arctic communities are diverse and thriving, but “not being tapped into,” she said, and should be thought of as representative as the nation, especially in the context of the Arctic Council.


In communities that depend on energy, tribal leaders emphasize holistic approaches over thousands of years. Infrastructure, housing, water systems, renewable technologies, landfills, and transportation must be connected to the diverse Alaska cultures, said Schaeffer. Food security means relying on land, sea and air for food supply, and responsible development needs to be discussed in the context of food security.


The global market of energy is impacting the state, but even with low oil prices, villages are paying $7-10 a gallon for fuel, and water is $8.15 per gallon, if they have access to it. Human needs for water, food and shelter are all connected to energy, Schaeffer emphasized.


Glaciers are impacting the whole world—it is important to look at this in a global picture, as well as permafrost thaw and its impact not only in the atmosphere as methane releases, but also on the water system and infrastructure that are destroyed by thawing permafrost.


Schaeffer said villages also face energy efficiency issues with Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (NAHASDA) funding and the lack of standards for Arctic design, despite housing authorities’ efforts, without science-approved regulations. A renewable energy source cannot be integrated into a village home that is in a condemnable condition due to permafrost thaw. Schaeffer noted the need for innovative design in rural Alaska’s unique environment when the 900 square foot homes are barely affordable and are not energy efficient.


“If you have to choose between feeding your kids and fueling your house, how can that be a healing place?” said Schaeffer.


Schaeffer noted the lack of time for implementing funds, let alone getting the funds, for a 3-month construction season. She suggested projects need to be phased appropriately in terms of this short season, but also in accordance to the climate itself.



Education is necessary for a bright future of leadership in Indian Country—not everyone needs to be an engineer, she said, but everyone should know more about how to integrate energy mechanisms in order to use them.


Schaeffer said she worked with a regional community outside of Bethel with the Association of Village Council Presidents to prioritize addressing rural challenges. She said the U.S. needs to change the way they look at community development by utilizing state and federal dollars to maximize it for everyone and send to the people.


Knudson began by highlighting Alaska’s geographical expanse in the context of President Obama’s experience in the state August 31 to September 2.


Regarding grid system in Alaska, Knudson said Alaska puts the “micro” in micro-grid, with more than 200 villages depending on diesel generation with limited distribution systems and community buildings.


Knudson mentioned Governor Bill Walker’s priority to reduce energy costs in rural areas. With $1 per kilowatt hour, villages face tough choices for tradeoffs to afford electricity—aside from kerosene-based heating. In rural Alaska, the household burden 20-30 percent of income dedicated to cover heat, electricity and transportation, which is “unacceptable in the long run,” he said.


This is a particular challenge Gov. Walker wants to address, Knudson said, which is why he has a particular focus to monetize the state’s natural gas deposits, bring it to market and export it as liquefied natural gas (LNG), but also ship LNG to villages as an alternative to diesel. He said this could also generate revenue for the state that could be used for renewable energy sources.


Knudson then noted the number of entities dedicated to reducing the cost of energy through various mechanisms in the state, including the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, University of Alaska, Alaska Energy Authority, Alaska Industrial Export and Development Authority, Cold Climate Housing Research Center, the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, and more.


Knudson also highlighted the tribal and local governments who are individually invested, and looking to the U.S. government to be a partner in these efforts to reduce the cost of energy in the state. These challenges are getting more attention from the nation, as evidenced by the President’s visit to Alaska, but also with the international focus via the Arctic Council chairmanship, which has a particular focus on micro-grids and presents the opportunity to learn from other Arctic nations’ experiences and technologies.


Knudson said Alaska is on track to be 50 percent renewable by 2025 and increase efficiency by 2020, but will require more funds to make it. The Renewable Energy Fund (REF) put $250 million over the course of 7 years to fuel investments in renewable technology, including 259 projects since 2008 and 300 grants, with 43 given to tribal entities, and more than 100 grants to Alaska Native Corporations.


Knudson noted there are big savings that came out of land-filled gas, wind and hydro projects. The benefit to cost ratio is 2.8 for investing in renewable energy in the state, he said, with hydropower having great potential despite the long permitting process.


Highlighting a number of projects via the REF, Knudson posed an ask for public and private partners to come up with off-the-shelf parts to integrate various renewable technologies with diesel technology, which he said will not be phased out of the villages permanently anytime soon. “If renewable energy technologies work in Alaska, it’ll work anywhere, given the highly challenging climate.”


Knudson invited attendees to attend the Rural Energy Conference in Fairbanks in April 2016 to present technologies and investments for rural energy.


Kochanowski noted that half the DOE’s Indian Energy Programs are based in Alaska, and how the Arctic impacts everyone in the U.S., reminding the audience of the Chinese warships in the Bering Sea during the President’s visit.


When it comes to energy, Alaska issues are American issues and relevant to all 50 states: workforce development, government coordination, advancing hybrid technologies—these underpin the federal Arctic needs in the renewable interests for the U.S., he said, and emphasized the need to stretch dollars.


Kochanowski discussed challenges with the Arctic. First, the Arctic Council is just a “talking group.” Arctic strategies last much longer beyond the Arctic Council chairmanship: there are still 8 years of the President’s National Strategy beyond the chairmanship, and it’s crucial not to lose sight of action items after the April 2017 ministerial. A second challenge is command and control: the Arctic isn’t just a focus of DOE, and consultation is central to this.


Kochanowski said he hopes the Arctic Energy Office makes a reprise in DOE, and noted he is the only DOE employee in the state, and hopes that changes.


Kochanowski said 30 KW power is enticing to Alaska where equations are different—600 KW is a nonstarter. The DOE is working with the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to produce the Rural Utilities Study in the next 4-5 months to provide more context to show gaps in rural utilities.


Kochanowski highlighted the valuable resources of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and its web resources regarding rural energy efficiency and housing.


Referring to the September 18 Alaska Public Media special on the Arctic Council featuring Craig Fleener and Nils Andreassen, Kochanowski concluded the only reason why America is an Arctic nation is because of Alaska, and virtually everything Alaska does impacts the Arctic, and everything the arctic somehow impacts Alaska. Alaska comprises 20 percent of the U.S. total land mass and has many resources that many besides Alaskans are interested in for security and energy, and the U.S. has many friends and foes who are interested in these resources.


Lastly, Kochanowski reminded the audience that all challenges in the Arctic present opportunities for Alaska, and the U.S. as a whole.