by Dan Bross, KUAC

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has delayed action on the state agency’s proposed purchase of Fairbanks Natural Gas parent company Pentex. The AIDEA Board announced the delay, following an executive session in Anchorage Wednesday, siting technical engineering issues related to the $54 million deal. The session followed numerous public comments critical of the deal.

The Pentex/Fairbanks Natural Gas utility purchase is aimed at forwarding the state lead Interior Energy Project to bring low cost natural gas to Fairbanks. The overall project has general public support, but its viability and timeline drew questions at the AIDEA meeting. Most of the public commenters urged the agency to re-focus on the alternate option of shipping in low cost propane from Canada. Commercial property owner Pamela Troop emphasized the fuels portability.

Another commenter, Delta Junction wind energy producer Mike Craft, pointed to the lack of a sufficient natural gas supply, and FNG’s currently limited local gas distribution system.

AIDEA is helping finance FNG and North Star Borough’s Interior Gas Utility expansion of local gas distribution piping, but broader use of the clean burning fuel is expected to still be years out, too slow for residents like Jimmy Fox, who also voiced support for propane as an alternative to wood heating, that fouls wintertime air.

The AIDEA Board did not respond to public comments, but is considering propane as part of an RFP process. A statement from AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik says the corporation remains positive about progress, and continues to work to bring affordable energy to Fairbanks. The AIDEA Board can take up resolutions related to the Pentex purchase with 5 days public notice, or at its next scheduled meeting in Fairbanks June 25.