UAF Professor Welcomes President – and His Support for Efficiency, Renewable Energy

Sep 11, 2015

A presidential shout-out on Alaska’s high energy costs …


During his recent trip to Alaska to promote his climate change agenda, President Obama offered federal aid to help people here cope with the impacts of global warming. In Kotzebue, he announced new programs to help make energy more affordable to remote communities that are far off the grid and that must pay very high prices for heat and electricity.

“... And we’re launching a new competition to support cutting-edge energy efficiency solutions,” he said, adding that the federal government would provide funding for proposals that could help make energy more affordable to Alaskans in rural areas.

President Obama speaking to a crowd packed in to the Kotzebue High School gymnasium on Sept. 2.
Credit KNOM

That part of the speech resonated with Tom Marsik. He’s a University of Alaska-Fairbanks professor who teaches sustainable-energy at the university’s Dillingham campus. And he was part of the reception committee that greeted the president during his stopover there.

“I got to greet him at the airport and shake his hand and spend a few seconds with him,” Marsik said.

The encounter was one of few times that an Alaskan was able to get a few words in with the president during his carefully orchestrated trip to promote his climate-change agenda.

And Marsik, a strong advocate of renewable energy solutions for Alaskan communities, took advantage of the opportunity.

“I got to thank him for supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy,” he said, “and he acknowledged that this it is important. And I briefly explained that it is critical to the long-term survival of our communities.”

Tom Marsik at his highly energy-efficient home in Dillingham. Marsik says his electricity bills last year totaled $745, including about $102 for heat.
Credit KDLG

Marsik’s classes emphasize efficient building designs that conserve energy and incorporate renewable-energy technologies, where appropriate. They’re the kind of structures that reduce high energy costs in communities where heating oil and diesel to generate electricity can costs $10 a gallon, or more.

“In our part of Alaska, it’s an economic issue,” he said. “Energy is very expensive. And if we can use less, that brings significant savings.”

Marsik knows that firsthand. He built a super-insulated, super-efficient home in Dillingham that’s been certified as the World’s Most Airtight House. He paid just over $100 to heat his home all of last year, in a place where electricity costs about 25 cents a kilowatt hour – double the national average.

Marsik gave a tour of his home to a member of the president’s advance team that came to Dillingham a couple of weeks before he came to Alaska.