IGU ribbon cutting

IGU holds a ribbon cutting ceremony at the North Pole storage and vaporization site on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2021. 

Almost six years after breaking ground on a 70-mile natural gas distribution network in North Pole, gas is now flowing to four homes and one business with more to come, according to the Interior Gas Utility.

The publicly-owned energy provider turned on gas for its first North Pole customer on Saturday, according to Elena Sudduth, customer service and marketing manager.

On Thursday, the utility held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new North Pole storage site, located near the now-defunct Flint Hills Resources refinery, to mark the occasion. Local leaders in attendance characterized it as a major breakthrough in an ongoing effort to expand access to cleaner-burning energy in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

“Good things come to those who wait. We’ve waited long enough. We’re glad to have it here now,” North Pole Mayor Mike Welch said during remarks at the event, which was streamed online.

The North Pole natural gas distribution network stretches from the city of North Pole east toward Moose Creek, ending just past Gordon Road. To the north, the network ends at Hurst Road. To the south, the border is the Old Richardson Highway.

Sudduth said the 10 other buildings are hooked up and will be getting gas soon. The IGU is taking applications to add more customers starting in June.

“We plan to install a lot more this summer,” she said.

The North Pole distribution system became operational on Feb. 15 after being purged of nitrogen, which was used to keep the system pressurized.

The natural gas comes from the Cook Inlet, is trucked to the Interior and stored in two liquefied natural gas storage tanks, totalling 150,000 gallons.

A separate 5.25-million gallon liquified natural gas storage tank that serves Fairbanks went online in late 2019, which allowed the IGU to begin adding customers in the Golden Heart City last summer.

The fee to hook up to the gas grid starts at $225 and people are responsible for converting their own appliances to gas though qualified residents can apply for as much as $7,500 in government help with switching to natural gas under a conversion assistance program operated by the borough.

The cost to heat with natural gas is comparable to the cost to heat with oil, according to Sudduth.

Officials are hoping to see North Pole residents convert to cleaner-burning gas to help reduce air pollution.

“This new service is a step toward economic and environmental relief for residents, and we look forward to watching it expand into more areas of the Interior,” said Jinnel Choiniere, president and CEO of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.

The North Pole storage site had been under construction since October of 2019.

The IGU is a subsidiary of the borough and was started in 2012 with the goal of providing low-cost, clean-burning natural gas to the largest number of customers as soon as possible.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.