Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Community Perspective

FAIRBANKS — Tomorrow evening at 5 p.m. in the Westmark Gold Room, major participants in the Interior Energy Project (IEP), will again convene to update the public on their progress toward turning the dream of lower-cost energy in the Interior into the reality of affordable natural gas in the homes and businesses of Fairbanks and North Pole. The latest IEP Community Involvement Meeting, hosted by the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation (FEDC), including representatives of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), MWH Global (MWH), Fairbanks Natural Gas (FNG) and the Interior Gas Utility (IGU), is occurring Monday. The public is strongly encouraged to attend as the IEP is a community project — your project — and it’s your participation that keeps this initiative community-focused and on track.

For those who missed it, the last IEP Community Involvement Meeting occurred July 8. Requested by AIDEA as a means of reaching out to and informing the community regarding the status of the project, the meeting included highly-detailed presentations from our local natural gas utilities, as well as AIDEA’s partner for North Slope LNG development, MWH Global. The presentations were filled with particulars which allowed the community to form a “base-line” understanding of the physical materials that make up the LNG trucking and local gas distribution project.

Having set the “base-line” on infrastructure, Monday’s meeting will focus more closely on the projects individual components and financing of each. The featured presenter will be the state’s lead agency for IEP project management, AIDEA.

As you’ll recall, as part of Gov. Parnell’s effort to jump-start the community’s transition to natural gas, AIDEA was handed — along with over $350 million in state grants, loan fund capitalization and bonding authority — the responsibility for ensuring the completed IEP achieved the governor’s, Legislature’s and community’s goal of delivering $15 per million cubic feet of natural gas (roughly equivalent to $2 per gallon for fuel oil) to 80 percent of borough homes and businesses in the shortest possible timeframe.

Senate Bill 23, passed unanimously by the legislature and signed into law in 2013, positively authorized AIDEA to waive any or all regulations it might normally apply, and make IEP-related loans with interest rates as low as zero percent and repayment terms as or more generous than any federally backed repayment-deferred student loan ever offered. And though it has been its historic and customary practice, as with any bank, to maximize returns on its loans or investments, AIDEA was authorized (some would say, positively directed) to forego “profit” and do whatever it took to ensure local residential and commercial consumers received the greatest possible reduction in the space-heating bills. In short, AIDEA was given unprecedented latitude in how it might use the funding to accomplish the project goals.

AIDEA is holding the keys to the successful financing of this project and fulfilling Gov. Parnell’s promise to bring energy relief to our community and region. Therefore, it is appropriate that at this meeting, we all get to hear from AIDEA what they’ve been doing, and intend to do, with the funds and authority granted and, as with the other project participants, set a baseline from which the community can gauge their future performance.

Though you may not have noticed it with all the other construction happening on the roadways, it’s been hard to drive around town or your neighborhood the last couple months without bumping into a work crew preparing for or installing natural gas distribution piping. From University West to Taku, Hamilton Acres to Bjerremark, FNG has been making the most of the summer build season, and the loan it received from AIDEA under the broader aegis of the IEP, to expand its system in preparation for the increased gas supplies the impending North Slope LNG facility will make available. It may have gone under-noticed, but it’s a tangible sign that the work our community has done in recent years is bearing fruit.

Ensuring those “fruits” are as a sweet, timely and broadly distributed as we’d all hope, and the governor and Legislature intended, is the job of every member of our community. So come to the Westmark tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. for the IEP Community Involvement Meeting and Interior Energy Project update: your IEP development team wants to tell you how your energy project is going, and make sure it’s going where you, the community, want it to go.

Jim Dodson is the president and CEO of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation. He lives in Fairbanks.