By Diana Campbell
Tim Cerny, president of Fountainhead Development, is looking forward to putting a dent in his company's $2.3 million energy costs.
On Wednesday evening in Fairbanks, Gov. Sean Parnell signed SB23, a finance vehicle that will help support an Interior natural gas trucking project.
"Fairbanks, now for the first time in years, will see energy costs drop," Cerny told a crowd of about 250 people at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum gathered to see Parnell sign the legislation.
The bill is a testament to those Fairbanksans who spent years looking for a way to bring heating and electricity prices down in the Interior, Parnell said.
"I'm here to sign this bill today, because for the first time in the history of our state, we will be putting North Slope natural gas to work for Alaskans," Parnell said.
In quick signing and dating the document, the legislation became law making possible more than $330 million of bonds, low-interest loans and grants available to the private sector or a municipal utility to pursue a plan to truck and distribute North Slope liquefied natural gas.
The plan is to start construction of a North Slope processing plant and an Interior distribution and storage infrastructure by the end of 2015.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and the Alaska Energy Authority estimate gas would be delivered to homes at a price between $13.42 and $17 per thousand feet of cubic gas. That's an equivalent of between $1.79 and $2.27 per gallon of fuel oil.
Anna Atchison, the chairwoman of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce government relations committee, said getting to the signing took two years. This last year started to look dire for Fairbanks.
"People and businesses pulled up stakes and pulled out," she said. "We all know someone like that."
She felt like maybe it was a little bold when the chamber starting asking for relief from high energy costs in the legislature, but a conversation with Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks, changed her mind.
"He said, "I'm not going home until we have some relief in the Interior,'" Atchison said.
Coghill told the group Wednesday night that he meant it. He said he is not forgetting other Alaskan communities that face rising energy costs.
There is more work to do until groundbreaking, Parnell said.
"This is an anchor project, not just for Fairbanks and North Pole, but an anchor project for the rest of the Interior," Parnell said.