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Alaska editorial: Urgent Energy: Rush of gas plans is good to see

Posted: September 14, 2012 - 12:04am

This editorial first ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Solving the energy crisis in Fairbanks is a complex task, in part because of the wide variety of competing ideas put forward as solutions.

Expanding natural gas service to more homes and businesses in Fairbanks has long been slowed by the question of which comes first — the gas supply or the gas consumer. It’s the Fairbanks version of the chicken and the egg dilemma.

What’s more, when a proposal with merit is advanced, another one is offered by those who say it is just a bit better, while a third plan is advertised as superior to all others. Throw in those who want none of the above and you have a stalemate.

In our case, it’s not just that the perfect that is the enemy of the good. The multitude of options promotes paralysis.

Efforts to win the support of the Parnell administration and the Legislature for a major state grant for the development of natural gas infrastructure have stalled over the lack of agreement in Fairbanks on how to proceed.

The Fairbanks City Council is to consider advancing a measure Monday, with a public hearing in two weeks, on a plan that holds promise as a step toward sorting out the alternatives and bringing them into clearer focus.

The idea is for the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole to transfer the power to create an area-wide natural gas utility to the borough, which could create one by ordinance.

The resulting utility board would, in the words of the city ordinance, “explore public-private partnership options” and strive to facilitate the expansion of natural gas service in Fairbanks. The city ordinance favors an approach in which the utility would contract with private industry, and that could be the best option. This board would be in the strongest position to seek a major state grant to build a conditioning plant and other facilities and allow private firms to do the rest.

This proposal first and foremost is a means of creating a workable structure to fill in the details of a natural gas expansion plan and move the community closer toward a unified approach. We don’t have that structure today and no entity is taking the lead.

The proposed borough utility board is not a perfect plan, but it is a step that could lead to a workable solution in time to make a strong pitch for state backing in 2013.

Whatever the outcome, and whatever the final plan might be, it’s good to see the sense of urgency is accelerating.

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