The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is starting up hearings Tuesday in a process it expects to end with a comprehensive energy bill the panel would approve before the August recess.
The "hope is" to begin marking up a broader energy package "later this month," said Robert Dillon, spokesman for energy committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
Legislative text is being finalized this week, with the goal of marking up a broader energy bill before the August recess, in about three weeks, he said.
First up are hearings on issues that are a priority for the Alaska Republican, which could be addressed in smaller bills added to broader legislation.
Murkowski will pick up where she left off ahead of the Fourth of July break, with a Tuesday hearing on the issue of "island energy."
Lack of energy affects a number of remote communities in Alaska, as well as states such as Hawaii and territories Guam and the Virgin Islands. The island communities aren't part of a central power grid. A "vast majority" of these small towns and cities, including Kodiak Island in Alaska, are "not connected to anything" and have to fend for themselves for energy, he said.
The situation means many Alaskans use large amounts of diesel fuel, which is expensive and less efficient than other forms of electricity for heating.
"First of all, the fuel source is primarily diesel oil ... on top of that they don't have the scale to ... maximize their efficiency," Dillon said. Other states such as Hawaii have similar concerns, but the issue is of major concern for broad swaths of Alaska.
Murkowski wants to use the hearing to help shape legislation that could be included in a broader energy bill, Dillon said. One option being considered is switching communities from diesel to more natural gas, he said. Natural gas is currently one of the lowest-cost fuels in the country for heating and electricity.
Some electricity policies could be changed to make the remote communities eligible for federal grants to help them build more sustainable energy systems. For example, programs that support "micro grids" currently exclude remote communities that aren't connected to a larger centralized grid. A micro grid, as the name implies, is a smaller version of the conventional or distribution grid system.
The government's definition of a "micro grid" would have to be changed "to broaden it" to include the island communities, Dillon said.
The concern is economic. If residents have to spend 50 percent of their income to stay warm, there is a huge economic cost that stifles opportunity, he said. It's an issue that could be addressed by using both renewable energy like wind and hydropower, combined with diesel generators or other fossil fuels. He said addressing the needs of remote communities should be fuel "agnostic."
Also on the calendar this week, an energy committee panel headed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wy., will hold a Thursday hearing on legislation to address forest management on public lands.
Thus far, the only other item on the calendar is an Aug. 4 hearing on nuclear waste legislation.
The Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2015 would create a special federal agency to site and oversee the construction of an interim storage facility for nuclear reactor waste.
The facility wouldn't be an alternative to Yucca Mountain, the embattled permanent storage facility in Nevada. The interim waste facility would store the reactor waste temporarily until a permanent waste facility is built at Yucca Mountain, or someplace else.