News-Miner opinion: The resignation of Interior Gas Utility board member Frank Abegg and subsequent appointment of Gary Wilken to the IGU board once more has brought the Fairbanks North Star Borough-owned utility back into focus of the public.
The Interior Gas Utility cannot escape controversy, it seems. Coming to a complete understanding of the Interior Gas Utility’s work, assets, goals, challenges and finances cannot be understood in five minutes, and most people would not understand the IGU’s scope of work in 20 minutes. People have been talking about bringing natural gas to the Interior for so long it still seems like a pipe dream.
The complexity of the IGU, combined with the $270 million funding package of loans and bonds that it received from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority make the IGU ripe for people to pick apart with assumptions.
Last fall, as the IGU approached a deal to purchase Pentex and its assets, and it held some public meetings to educate and answer questions. With an approximately $60 million purchase about to be made, the IGU did the right thing in holding those meetings.
The Pentex deal is done. So now what?
The IGU should probably launch another campaign to educate the public as to what is next for this public utility. A few topics that might be of interest to the Interior residents might include the following:
• When the IGU completes its 5.2 million gallon natural gas storage tank in early 2020, the IGU should be able to begin adding customers to its system. That moment isn’t that far off, so people should be made aware of how they can convert their homes or businesses to use natural gas. If a property owner’s boiler goes kaput, is it time for that property owner to consider converting? How much will that cost?
• AIDEA is the banker for this energy project. And as the banker, AIDEA has set terms for how the IGU can spend its $270 million funding package. How do these terms affect the IGU’s decision-making?
• IGU officials recently met with a group from the Knik Tribe, located in Houston — the Alaska community, not the Texas city — and the global gas and oil development firm Siemens. Together, Knik and Siemens are proposing to sell the IGU natural gas. Knik and Siemens are offering to build modular gas liquefaction facilities on tribal lands and ship the liquefied natural gas to Fairbanks using the Alaska Railroad.
The proposal is appealing for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the opportunity to have a firm gas supply. This means that if a catastrophe, such as a fire or earthquake, temporarily knocks out one gas liquefaction plant, the IGU would have another liquefaction plant operating at a different location.
But Knik and Siemens want the IGU to sign a memorandum of agreement, showing some level of commitment to the proposal. Is the plan financially viable? What is the gas supply? How much commitment does the Knik and Siemens team want from the IGU?
The bottom line is this: The more the public knows about this public utility, the more trust and less suspicion they will have.