Senate Finance advances TransCanada buyout bill

JUNEAU — The Senate Finance Committee on Monday advanced legislation that would authorize funding for a buyout of one of the state’s partners in a major proposed gas project.

The committee advanced a version of Gov. Bill Walker’s legislation that includes $157 million requested by the administration to buy out TransCanada Corp.’s interest and continue work by the state toward advancing the project. The figure initially was a bit higher but the departments of Revenue and Natural Resources submitted revised funding requests that were lower. The buyout portion itself is estimated around $68 million.

The administration has laid out a timeline for completing the TransCanada buyout by Dec. 1. As currently structured, in an arrangement that predates Walker’s administration, TransCanada would hold the state’s interest in the pipeline and gas treatment plant. If the buyout is approved, that interest would be acquired by the state-sanctioned Alaska Gasline Development Corp., or AGDC, which already would hold the state’s interest in liquefaction facilities.

Project partners are scheduled to vote Dec. 4 on the 2016 work scope and budget. Assuming the buyout is approved, AGDC is expected to be in position to vote.

Walker has argued that a buyout of TransCanada would give the state a greater say in the project, also being pursued by BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil Corp. The administration also is betting that it can get financing cheaper than through TransCanada. The state would owe for costs TransCanada puts in to the project on the state’s behalf, plus interest of about 7 percent, whether the project succeeds or fails, an administration consultant has said.

A Senate vote is expected as early as Tuesday. If the bill passes, it would go to the House, which has been holding hearings on the issue since the special session started Oct. 24. A draft rewrite of the bill recently unveiled in House Finance is in line with what advanced from Senate Finance on Monday.

Senate Finance vice-chair Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he doesn’t have qualms about voting for the bill. But he said it became clear during questioning this special session that the state agencies involved in the project and AGDC need to become organized. This is an opportunity to evaluate where any gaps might be and to put the right organization forward to manage this project for the state, he said.

There’s no guarantee a project will be built; a decision on that could be a few years away, and a lot has to fall in place between now and then. Negotiations have been under way and the administration hopes to be able to bring project contracts to the Legislature between April and June.

Meanwhile, the producer partners have voiced concerns or raised questions with regulations proposed by AGDC regarding confidentiality, under which the corporation’s board would try to limit the amount of information withheld from the public.

In written comments, a senior lead negotiator with ConocoPhillips, Patrick Flood, said the proposed regulations would not allow AGDC to effectively function within industry standards necessary for a competitive project. No final decision on the proposed regulations has been made.

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