By Jim Dodson | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Community Perspective

FAIRBANKS — As noted in the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation’s Community Perspective of June 22nd, at least three things are requisite for community initiatives or projects: information, avenues and opportunities for participation and you, the community. Recently, all three came together regarding the liquefied natural gas trucking and distribution project in the form of the second Interior Energy Project community involvement meeting. This project is necessary to future community viability and success, and much thanks is owed to MWH Global, Fairbanks Natural Gas and the Interior Gas Utility for their participation in the forum. But much additional praise is owed to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority: it was at their urging that FEDC arranged the meeting and at their insistence these IEP public information and engagement meetings will be regular affairs.

For those who missed it, the IEP community involvement meeting occurred Tuesday, July 8th, at the Westmark Hotel. It was requested by AIDEA as a means of reaching out to and updating the community regarding the status of the project but also as a chance to formally introduce AIDEA’s major partner in project development, MWH Global.

MWH Global is a multi-national engineering and management firm of wide experience and a long history in Alaska. The firm has expertise in industries as diverse as oil and gas, hydro power, water, wastewater, and mining. They are equipped to provide services ranging from project and construction management, design and engineering, management consulting and financial analysis, and they are adept in the delivery of large, technically complex projects. Currently, they are bringing that expertise to bear by assisting AIDEA with the engineering and construction of the North Slope LNG facility, and in assuring financing for the facility through acquisition of private capital and the securing of LNG sales agreements.

MWH Global is also contributing to the project as a whole by working with both AIDEA and our local utilities to help fully integrate and optimize the total North Slope to end-user supply chain. On multiple levels, particularly the delivered cost of gas, striking the right balance between North Slope LNG production capacity, North Slope and in-town storage capacity, LNG trucking capacity and local demand is critical to success of the project and MWH Global is helping find that balance.

On the local level, our natural gas utilities are continuing to make the most of this year’s building season. Having taken out a $15 million dollar loan with AIDEA, FNG is already well on its way to completing phase one of its scheduled two-year distribution system expansion. If everything stays to schedule, half of Fairbanks — including Westgate, Hamilton Acres, Bjerremark, Aurora and Shannon Park — will be ready for gas by this fall.

IGU, having taken out an $8 million dollar AIDEA loan of its own, has completed design for phase one of its proposed build-out, which will commence next year and lay pipe in the core of North Pole. They are already preparing the hydraulic modeling and storage facility engineering which will make that construction possible, and are preparing to order the pipe and other materials they’ll needed to make it happen and proceed on schedule. IGU is also, as promised, moving ahead with the hiring of a contract gas operator — a private sector entity to efficiently and cost-effectively perform the day-to-day operations of the utility. That firm should be onboard and ready to help manage next year’s construction by the fourth quarter of this year.

In short, the meeting showed that MWH Global, FNG and IGU are, like AIDEA, moving aggressively through the financial and technical milestones necessary to ensure North Slope plant operation, and gas availability here in town, by the third quarter of 2016 — in time for the 2016/2017 heating season.

As Governor Parnell noted when he unveiled the Interior Energy Project proposal in 2012 — a project with, in his words, “the overall goal to deliver gas at about $12 to $15 per 1,000 cubic feet to homeowners” — it will take diligence and participation by all to turn the “jump-start” of his AIDEA funding package into the reality of affordable energy for as many residents as possible. By convening the participants and the community at IEP community involvement meetings, AIDEA is helping to ensure our residents understand the project and can do their part, too.

The next IEP community involvement meeting will be in August. FEDC, MWH Global, FNG, IGU and AIDEA will be there. We hope to see you there.

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