Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial

Wednesday’s announcement that the Interior Gas Utility has placed an order for pipe to complete the first phase of its distribution buildout next year was welcome news for those following local energy issues closely. Not only is it meaningful progress down the path toward affordable energy for Interior residents, but the development also keeps the IGU’s part of the ambitious Interior Energy Project on track.

The first pipe order will be for 80 miles of polyethylene pipe of varying diameters and will be installed next summer in North Pole. As residents in Fairbanks found this year as crews installing pipe for Fairbanks Natural Gas extended existing lines, it’s one thing to read about natural gas coming at a future date and very much another to see pipe going into the ground. Something about the tangible nature of the project when it reaches the stage of installation resonates better than a dozen hopeful speeches by local leaders ever could.

It’s worth noting that expanding distribution doesn’t ensure affordable gas delivery in and of itself. Many hurdles remain between the present and late 2016, the Interior Energy Project’s target date for the beginning of gas delivery. The gas liquefaction plant planned by project partner MWH Global must still be constructed on the North Slope. Logistics and purchasing relating to the trucks themselves and transport of gas from the Slope must still take place. Local storage capacity must be increased to accommodate the supply of gas. And most importantly, residents must convert their boilers to operate using natural gas, providing the demand for gas that will allow the project to grow and delivered gas prices to remain low. From a pessimist’s point of view, those are quite a few potential failure points. From an optimist’s, that’s a straightforward list of items on a checklist, the end point of which is energy relief for the Interior.

Up until Wednesday, though, there was one more item on that list, and it’s now in the process of getting crossed off. What’s more, distribution is an aspect of the project that must be in place regardless of the gas source, so whether the North Slope plant or Cook Inlet gas are in position to deliver low-cost gas, the lines IGU is purchasing will be essential for residents.

Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, it’s hard to argue this week’s development is bad news.