JUNEAU — Even as the parts begin to align behind projects to bring natural gas to the Interior, there’s still a major hurdle between homeowners and lower energy bills — the costly conversion to natural gas heaters.
It’s a problem that could be solved by a low-interest loan program proposed by Interior Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and backed by members of the Interior delegation.
House Bill 35 would create a program where eligible homeowners would be eligible for a 10-year loan of up to $15,000 to cover the parts and installation of home-heating devices more efficient than their current devices. Wilson hopes those more efficient devices will be natural gas furnaces for Interior residents.
“We’ve got the main lines where we’re ready for natural gas,” she said. “I could see people looking to doing gas, and you could be looking at people where it’s not available going to more efficient oil, biomass or even wood pellet heaters.”
Fairbanks has limited gas available and more is expected to be available to consumers when Fairbanks Natural Gas expands its storage capacity in 2014 and a proposed trucking plan is scheduled to begin delivering gas in 2015.
Wilson’s bill is an attempt to make conversions available to a wider number of homeowners in advance of such a delivery.
The bill is a return of various recent efforts to create a conversion program. Those programs all fell short of passing the Legislature and making it to the governor’s desk, but Wilson is confident the more widely available program will win
“We put forth a gas bill last year, and we learned about the energy issues throughout the state,” she said. “As they change to other sources, there was no way to affordably convert to another home heating system. We just think pretty much everyone in the state could benefit from it.”
The bill represents a broader approach to finding energy relief solutions for Fairbanks. Making Fairbanks-centric solutions applicable throughout the state, such as bills incentivizing natural gas storage facilities and remote oil drilling, has helped them win approval from legislators representing a broad range of interests.
Wilson’s conversion bill already has the support of two Southeast legislators, Reps. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.
Wilson said seeking broader support for the bill as well as crafting it to be self-sustaining are increasingly important as budgets shrink in light of drying up oil revenue.
“I think everybody is feeling the energy crunch, and with oil going down and our revenues changing, it’s time to look at programs that are just not rebate programs but ones that can sustain themselves,” she said.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.