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Energy & Environment

‘A Big Step Into the Future of Our Community’: Gas Utility Completes North Pole Facility

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Interior Gas Utility
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The Interior Gas Utility celebrated its newly completed, $15 million North Pole natural-gas storage facility Thursday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its site near the old Flint Hills Resources Refinery.

A half dozen or so dignitaries assembled Thursday morning at the site of the IGU’s new North Pole LNG storage and vaporization facility to celebrate both its completion and the opening of its valves to begin distribution of gas to the city’s customers who’ve signed up for the service. North Pole Mayor Mike Welch said the project was a long time coming.

“I like to say good things come to those who wait,” he said. “We’ve waited long enough, and we’re glad to have it here now.”

Former North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward, who now serves as the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s mayor, hailed the project as an important step toward extending the IGU’s service area outside of Fairbanks.

“It’s been almost a decade of work that’s gone towards the actual commencement of the gas in the lines today,” Ward said. “And, really, it brings me a lot of excitement to say that the future of North Pole and the future of the Interior is natural gas.”

The IGU is a subsidiary of the borough, which has promoted natural gas as an essential component of the state’s stringent program to reduce Fairbanks-area air pollution mainly caused by emissions from woodstoves and other solid-fuel home-heating systems. Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jinnel Choiniere alluded to that, and the IGU’s efforts to bring down the price of natural gas to make it more competitive with other fuels, especially heating oil.

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Credit IGU
An overhead view of the North Pole facility off H&H Road shows the two 75,000-gallon LNG tanks and other structures.

“Not only does this alternative fuel have the potential to lower the costs for families in the long run,” she said, “but will also improve air quality in the area by reducing PM2.5 production from home heating.”

That’s been a challenge for the IGU, both because of the upfront cost for consumers to convert their heating systems to natural gas, and because the low price of crude oil over the past couple of years has driven down the price of heating oil, the area’s most-widely used fuel. But IGU General Manager Dan Britton expects the new storage facility will make gas more competitive.

“Today is a big step into the future of our community,” he said. “North Pole is in dire need of clean-burning energy source, and we’re here to celebrate that today.”

Britton said in an interview after the ribbon-cutting that the North Pole facility came in on budget but not on schedule, in part due to covid-related delays. He says IGU has about 1,400 customers around Fairbanks, but only five in North Pole. He expects that number will grow now that the new storage facility is up and running.

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Credit IGU
The IGU has installed about 73 miles of distribution piping around North Pole on both sides of the Richardson Highway, shown here diagonally bisecting the map.

“The whole idea is now to be able to add a significant number of new customers,” he said.

Britton says that’s why IGU has installed some 72 miles of distribution lines around North Pole, and 15 service lines last year.

“With the increase in demand,” he said, “we can further expand that system in the coming years.”

Britton said the IGU has already gotten some applications for construction of more service lines around town. And he says the utility will be accepting applications for more lines through this summer.