DOE VISIT — Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy David Turk speaks with NJUS's Ken Morton during his visit to Nome.

US Dept. of Energy Deputy Secretary visits Nome, Teller

David Turk, the deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, stopped in Nome and Teller during a visit to Alaska last week.
Recent legislation has put more federal funds toward the clean energy transition, and Turk said the major purpose of his visit was to spread the word about various DOE programs that consumers and businesses alike could take advantage of.
As the DOE also has been involved in funding development of domestic supply chains of battery materials important for that energy transition, the deputy secretary and his delegation met with Graphite One.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure everybody all across the country, including people who need it the most, benefit from a lot of those resources,” Turk said in an interview with the Nugget. “When you think of parts of the country where people are paying too much for their energy, and a large portion of their income is going to electricity or heating, you certainly think of Alaska.”
Turk said he felt it was an honor to be in his position at a time when the federal government is charged with implementing historic legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These two bills gave the government “a lot more tools in the tool belt” to build a clean energy economy, Turk said.
Some of those tools are massive in scale. For instance, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law gave the DOE a $8 billion program to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs across the country. The same law also gave the DOE $2.8 billion in grants that it distributed last year to 20 companies that are working on expanding domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles.
Graphite One is proposing a mine in the Kigluaik Mountains to extract graphite, an essential component of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. Mike Schaffner, Graphite One’s senior vice president of mining, previously told the Nugget that the company had applied for that first round of grants and didn’t receive one but planned to apply for future DOE opportunities. Turk said a second tranche of grants would be available for companies to apply to soon.
“It’s been quite impressive to see how much that federal funding is leveraging private sector investment,” Turk said. He added that the DOE has a loan program that companies can apply for outside of this grant application cycle.
“This is the program that, back in the day, provided Tesla a loan when it needed it the most,” Turk said. “Elon Musk doesn’t always highlight the fact that he got a loan from the federal government that allowed him to do what he’s done, and he’s paid back that loan. Obviously, that was a phenomenal investment for taxpayers to build out that capability here in the U.S. The loan program is in discussions with a number of companies.”
Turk said that there are several reasons the U.S. wants to mine, manufacture and produce materials such as graphite products domestically.
“You get the jobs, you get the economic benefit, you get the security of the supply chains,” he said. But he added that the projects the DOE funds have to make sense in a community and to make sense environmentally. “That community has to want it and benefit from the jobs,” Turk said. He said that applicants to these big taxpayer-funded programs have to submit a community benefits plan, which ends up being 20 percent of their grade.
“If someone does their homework, and it’s clear that they’ve done their homework, and the community’s on board and concerns that have been expressed have been dealt with, they get a more likely chance of actually getting the funding,” Turk said.
Turk said he hoped to see the hard-to-access area where Graphite One wants to mine during the plane ride to Teller. He got a tour of Teller from Mayor Blanche Okbaok-Garnie and Lucy Oquilluk, president of the Native Village of Mary’s Igloo. The Native Village of Teller and they said they were not involved in the visit.
He was accompanied by Erin Whitney, the director of the DOE’s Arctic Energy Office. Turk described this office as the “dot-connector” for his department’s understanding of Alaska.
“We have different tribal structures and governance structures up here in Alaska, and part of our job is to make sure that there are accommodations for the nuances and the differences in our structures here so that Alaska is included in this energy transition and in these historic funding awards,” Whitney said.
Whitney added that the DOE was trying to understand the energy needs of a place like Nome and the surrounding villages while at the same time understanding the region’s resources that hold promise nationally and globally.
“We’re trying to figure out, how do we meet the needs of our residents and how do we lower the cost of energy?” Whitney said. “But also, how do we leverage these nationally important resources, like graphite, for example? How do we balance those opportunities for the benefit of our entire nation, and for the benefit—perhaps through energy costs and energy opportunities—of the residents that live here? So, we come here humbly trying to think about not only the people who live here, but also the rest of the nation.”
“The port is another development here in Nome, which holds promise and opportunities for the residents, but also has promising opportunities for the state and the nation, from a commerce and a security standpoint,” Whitney said. “So ,it’s about making sure that everyone gets a piece of those opportunities and those rewards.”
New federal incentives that are more consumer-focused, such as new rebates for energy efficiency improvements people make to their homes, might not be as readily available in places like rural Alaska where there are barriers to sourcing consumer goods and labor. In discussing some of the challenges involved in making those benefits accessible, Turk said that his department was conscious of supply chain issues and workforce issues.
“We’re going to need upwards of a million new electricians by 2030 to take advantage of all the technologies that are coming online,” Turk said. He said there were efforts to work with local governments and tribes to make more training opportunities available. “But this is a huge, huge undertaking,” he said.


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