Jack Wilbur and Bob Shefchik are both running unopposed for the board of directors of the publicly-owned Interior Gas Utility on Oct. 5.
They have a lot in common. Both grew up in Fairbanks. Both have previously served on the utility board. After their terms expired, both volunteered at the gas utility.
Shefchik said he performed unpaid work helping the IGU with negotiating a purchase agreement. Despite leaving the board years ago, he has continued to read agenda packets so he can stay up-to-date with what’s happening.
“I’m vested,” he said. “I helped them start it ... I was on the IGU when we had to borrow $100 to open our first bank account.”
The 64-year-old retiree brings a background in public administration. He has worked in top administrative positions at the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the school district and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Wilbur, the 72-year-old chief financial officer and former president of Design Alaska, where he has worked for 45 years, brings a background in business.
After stepping off the IGU board last year following two consecutive terms, the limit, Wilbur said he became the public member of the IGU finance committee.
“My interest is in the community,” he said. “IGU is good for the community, and therefore I am interested in making IGU successful.”
The gas utility was created in 2012 as a public corporation, wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fairbanks North Star Borough with the goal to provide low cost, clean burning, natural gas to the largest number of people as possible, as soon as possible.
To that end, the IGU has borrowed about $150 million, purchased a private gas company, built out an underground piping network around parts of Fairbanks and North Pole, constructed a massive storage tank in South Fairbanks and operates a gas trucking operation to get supply to Fairbanks from a plant in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
Currently, the cost of heating with cleaner-burning gas in Fairbanks is on par with the cost to heat with diesel oil.
Payments on the bulk of the IGU’s loans start in 2033 under an agreement with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, an arm of the state of Alaska and the IGU’s biggest creditor.
In recent years, the IGU has been busy adding new customers. This year, the utility has added 81 customers, according to a marketing report presented to the board on Sept. 14. The utility has received 496 applications for commercial and residential service this year. About 60% of applications are for buildings on the gas piping network.
Overall, the IGU has approximately 15 North Pole customers with a potential for about 3,000 customers. In Fairbanks, there are 1,355 customers with the potential for 8,500, according to the marketing report.
The IGU recently purchased a building at 2525 Phillips Field Road, remodeled it and moved its headquarters.
Shefchik points to the economic advantages in Anchorage where cheap gas is available from the Cook Inlet. He said the IGU has positioned Fairbanks for receiving cheaper gas should a natural gas pipeline be built from the North Slope.
Natural gas is also the way out of winter air pollution problems in Fairbanks and North Pole, he said.
“I am committed to Fairbanks being successful, and I still believe gas is part of that,” he said.
Wilbur said he also has been reading board agendas and keeping up since leaving the board.
“Things are going very well, I believe, for IGU,” he said. “We are making good inroads.”
Design Alaska has been awarded contracts from the IGU, and Wilbur said he sees no problem so long as he sits out those votes.
“We do work for IGU,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with that. I just have to recuse myself from any vote that would give Design Alaska a contract.”
He said the IGU work is a very small portion of the overall work performed by Design Alaska.
Wilbur previously sat on the boards of directors of the United Way of the Tanana Valley and the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce.
“I just feel real positive about the direction IGU is going and would like to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s important to the community that IGU be successful. I think I can help with that success.”