Anchorage Utilities Call for Plan B on Natural Gas

Utilities have been saying Anchorage is running low on natural gas for a while, but today they said it could happen sooner than expected. That was the message from utilities to the Municipality during a Mayor’s task force meeting on energy today. The utilities called for a “Plan B” to address the situation.

Utility Officials referenced a recent study that shows the city could begin to run low on gas as early as 2014. Lee Thibert a senior vice president at Chugach Electric Association presented a power point with the latest data.

“We have been working as the team of ENSTAR, ML&P, MEA and HEA, working with petrochemical resources to look at the, kind of the supply demand imbalance or balance over the next few years and that study has been updated very recently, but we’re still, based on everything we’ve seen, even with the incentives that the state has put out, we could be in position of shortfall as early as 2014/2015,” Thibert said.

Chugach Electric Association is about 90 percent reliant on natural gas to supply power. Utility officials agreed that oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet has not put gas in production yet, and so it can’t be expected to help to avoid a serious shortfall. They said getting the available gas into production might take 3 to 7 years.  And that means importing natural gas from the Lower 48. Mayor Dan Sullivan says it’s clear, despite the exploration being done in Cook Inlet, the utilities will have to start moving in that direction.

“There’s a gap period between about 2014 and maybe about 2017 or so where there will not be enough gas under contract for either ENSTAR or the electric utilities to provide the need that they need to provide to the residents,” Sullivan said. “And during that period of time I think they’re making very strong plans right now today to purchase either liquefied natural gas or more likely compressed natural gas in order to fill that gap.”

Utility officials said they hope the state will help fund the cost of the studies and initial investments necessary to begin importation of natural gas from the Lower 48. And they hope to work with the legislature during the upcoming session to solve the problem.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage.

Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email.

Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.

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