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Achieving goals, using common sense is key to IGU's success

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FAIRBANKS  — Thank you to everyone who supported me for a Interior Gas Utility board member position in the October election. I am honored to represent everyone in our community to the best of my ability. I will work hard to meet the goals of affordable energy and cleaner air. We share a desire to live the best lives we can and that means being able to provide for the wellbeing of our families. Warm homes and healthy air are worthy goals. That’s why a successful Interior Energy Project is so vital.

The decision for IGU to purchase the Pentex and Fairbanks Natural Gas assets will be finalized by the end of March. At this time, the IGU Board is still conducting our own due diligence. 

Before the vote to move ahead with the sale, the IGU Board was repeatedly told they would lose the Interior Energy Project money if the purchase, directed by Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, was not approved. AIDEA Board members didn’t take other important gas project offers seriously. IGU’s most experienced member, Frank Abegg, warned in a letter to the IGU Board prior to the vote: “In my opinion IGU is being offered an overpriced asset. Fairbanks Natural Gas is not a financially healthy utility, and it needs over 100 million in infrastructure immediately to address existing supply chain constraints. It also does not have an economic long term firm gas supply. The AIDEA FA (Finance Agreement) and PSA (Purchase and Sales Agreement) do not meet the Governor’s promise of $15/mcf ($15 per million cubic feet of gas) to Fairbanks and leaves IGU with a very questionable economic future.” 

Several IGU Board members testified they were torn about the extreme high price of the sale and/or the relative low value and condition of the assets being purchased. They felt they had no choice but to vote for the sale if the money was going to be withdrawn. At one point, frustrations with AIDEA ran so high that the IGU Board reported to the Borough Assembly that is was very concerned about whether they could continue a working relationship with AIDEA. Nevertheless, on Dec. 5, the IGU Board voted to move into the next phase of the purchase prior to finalization. AIDEA holds the purse strings and so far has called all the shots while leaving the IGU to shoulder the future responsibility.

Your IGU Board is committed to obtaining affordable gas, avoiding more debt, bringing gas to commercial and residential customers quickly and doing so reliably. At this time, AIDEA has tied our hands and is not permitting IGU to explore other opportunities.

The IGU Board presently has before it opportunities that should be heard, deserve to be vetted and could be approved if the IGU Board determines it is the better deal. One such opportunity is to partner with the world-class experience of Siemens Technology, leaders in the oil and gas field. If IGU can get gas here more quickly and economically, why wouldn’t we do that? AIDEA should assist us, not fight us. 

Recently, AIDEA executive director John Springsteen asserted that our Interior Energy Project was not designed to clean up the air. The goals of the Interior Energy Project were put forward before Mr. Springsteen came to his position. The first two goals are affordable energy and cleaning up the air. 

With a $3 billion dollar state budget deficit, it’s very unlikely the Legislature will appropriate more money for the IEP. We need to use the money set aside in House Bill 105 for the project in the most economic way that meets our community’s goals. We need to use common sense to help as many people as possible lower their energy costs and breathe clean air.

Every day the plan drags out, people are being sickened and may even die sooner than they would have otherwise from breathing highly polluted air. A generation of children born in 2006 when the state was first warned of our dangerous air quality is now in the fifth and sixth grade. They may never develop their full lung capacity, and who knows what other damage may yet be undiscovered. 

Your volunteer IGU Board is comprised of experienced, capable, committed people. Four board members have more than 100 years experience in public utilities. Together, we have more than 350 years of Borough residency. We have raised our families here. Together, collectively, we can be successful if we stick to the goals and use common sense.

Patrice Lee is a retired math and science teacher who is serving on the Interior Gas Utility’s board of directors. 

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