Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the witnesses that have taken the time to be here today.
During the last decade, energy prices have risen dramatically. In fact, 10 years ago today, oil was trading for $30 a barrel and a gallon of gas was $1.45. Since then, we have seen it reach highs of nearly $150 a barrel and then drop back down to around $100 per barrel, where it remains at today. In the last year, it has not been uncommon for a gallon of gas to run near or above $4 a gallon depending where you live.
With these prices, innovative energy technologies and alternative energy sources are critical -- and in many cases small businesses are leading the way. Whether they're working to develop new sources of energy, rethinking how we use existing fossil fuels or making improvement to the electrical grid, these entrepreneurs have become agents of change in the energy industry, generating new ideas and the jobs that come with them. The reality is that the more diverse domestic options we have for energy, the better for everyone. With all of these alternatives on the table, the U.S. is better positioned to reduce its dependence on foreign oil over the long-term, and small business leaders are the ones that will allow us to reach this goal.
For example, in my home state of Florida, we are seeing this change first hand, particularly in the area of solar energy. This is not surprising in a state with abundant sunshine. Florida is quickly becoming a leader in this sector and is one of the nation's largest suppliers of utility-based solar power in the country. Small businesses in Florida are not just installing solar systems in homes and businesses; they are developing these cutting-edge technologies. With more than 430 companies and nearly 16,000 workers, my home state has one of the largest concentrations of suppliers of silicon and other solar module components in the U.S.
Another area that shows great promise is biofuels, where Florida also is a top producer. Small businesses making biofuels can draw on our state's high volume of biomass feedstock, including sugarcane, citrus and forest residues, and urban wood waste. This production is accounting for about 7 percent of total U.S. biomass output. Further, some of the best biomass energy research is conducted at Florida universities, leading to the development and production of cutting-edge biofuels.
Small businesses also play a key role in innovation related to traditional energy sources. This is clearly evident with regard to natural gas exploration. Shale gas in particular has created new jobs for specialty manufacturers, drilling service companies, and regional heavy equipment companies across the U.S. As they grow, so do the local economies where demand is created for restaurants, hotels, and other service companies.
I look forward to hearing how we can support these businesses in their efforts. We must find sensible ways to invest in the energy sources of tomorrow while ensuring that traditional fossil fuels can be used in an efficient and clean manner today. Determining the proper mix of these policies is often challenging and that is why today's hearing is so important.
I also look forward to understanding what barriers these innovative companies face, as well as hearing whether government should play a greater or lesser role. The challenges of small businesses are the challenges of this committee, and we are committed to ensuring that small firms continue to benefit from the recent developments in the energy industry.