Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)

Dunleavy: It’s time to think big on energy

This is an opportunity to once again show the world that economic development and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand.

  • Tuesday, February 2, 2021 9:53pm
  • Opinion

By Gov. Mike Dunleavy

We’re on the cusp of a generational dream: construction of a gas line from our stranded gas fields in the North Slope to the road system in Alaska. As the world turns toward clean fuels like natural gas and renewables, this is Alaska’s time to think big.

Over the years and across many administrations, Alaskans have discussed how to get our North Slope gas to market. Today, I’m happy to report that we are closer than ever to bringing this concept to fruition with a gas line between Point Thomson and Fairbanks.

With many of the permits in place, and research completed, this gas line could be a game changer for Alaska. Backed by significant private sector interest, and the real possibility of funding from the federal government, this opportunity to create thousands of construction jobs couldn’t come at a more opportune time for our state.

More importantly, this is a chance to provide our businesses, residents, and military installations on the road system with clean, affordable energy. This pipeline could very well be the reality that we’ve all been waiting for.

Some of you may be wondering what makes this project different from the failed megaprojects of decades past. That’s a fair question.

As many of you know, I was a skeptic of the previous proposal myself. That’s why my administration and the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) have been hard at working developing a phased, manageable plan that addresses these past points of failure.

First, we successfully reengaged the private sector in the funding and planning of this project. Alaska is many great things, but the State cannot responsibly finance, build, and operate a major gas line, or manage the risks associated on its own. AGDC is in discussions with prospective private partners and will continue to publicly report their progress.

Second, we significantly reduced the high cost of the project by more than $5 billion. We did this by applying advances in technology and manufacturing that have occurred in the rapidly maturing natural gas industry. This was possible thanks to the help of our industry partners.

After these cost reductions, the Point Thomson to Fairbanks gas line will cost around $5.9 billion. The good news is that, in addition to private funding, there is a strong possibility of federal funding. The new administration has announced plans for historic investment in job creation and economic recovery, and future spending legislation is expected to focus on clean energy infrastructure. The Point Thomson gas line would be a perfect candidate for these funds.

Third, we completed the intensive federal permitting process, and after more than half-a-decade of engineering and environmental work, key permits are in place to begin construction. Although the permitting process is a daunting gauntlet involving dozens of federal and state environmental offices, the permitting rigor gives Alaskans confidence that the project can be safely built and operated.

I’m truly excited for the future of affordable, clean energy in Alaska. By bringing down our second-highest-in-the-nation energy costs, we can attract the industries we need to build a self-reliant Alaska. That includes fertilizer plants for our farmers, pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce medicine, and mineral processors to refine the critical metals that are needed to build renewable energy components.

It will also end the forced reliance on wood and diesel that has created a serious air quality problem in the Fairbanks area. Indeed, this is an opportunity to once again show the world that economic development and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand.

Of course, I don’t mean to make any of this sound easy — changing the future never is. But harnessing our North Slope natural gas will immeasurably improve the lives of Alaskans, and it will help us develop the self-reliance we need to secure a future for our children and grandchildren.

Mike Dunleavy is the governor of Alaska.

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