Compass: Alaskans, are you ready to own a piece of the pipe?

By SEN. LESIL McGUIREFebruary 23, 2014 

As a little girl growing up in Alaska, I had a front row seat as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was built. I was filled with enthusiasm and hope as I saw the project create thousands of jobs in our great state, with Alaskans building one of the biggest engineering feats in North America. Then I watched as oil started to flow and state coffers started to fill. Excitement was in the air. It felt like the pipeline was pumping passion through the veins of every Alaskan.

However, being dependent on one volatile source of revenue -- crude oil -- has created a boom/bust cycle that Alaskans unfortunately know all too well. As any true Alaskan will tell you, it's a scary roller coaster ride that needs to end. We must diversify our supply of energy and sources of revenue to build a strong foundation for our future. That's where a North Slope natural gas pipeline project enters the picture.

Thirty-seven years after TAPS revolutionized Alaska's economy we are getting another shot at fortifying Alaska's future. And this time around, I want to make sure every Alaskan gets a chance to be part of this new mega-project.

I've been in Alaska, and even in the Legislature, through many of the efforts to commercialize North Slope natural gas. With all of the failed attempts, one might consider the concept a pipe dream. But Senate Bill 138, currently being considered in the Legislature and better known as the governor's gas line bill, is different. For the first time ever, we have alignment among the state, the Big Three producers and TransCanada in a way we haven't seen in previous projects.

SB 138 already lays the groundwork for a goal that is very dear to me -- getting affordable gas to Alaskans. Another very important piece of the legislation provides the framework for Alaska to become an equity owner in the project. Now, I want to take the ownership concept one step further -- I want every Alaskan to have the chance to personally participate in this historic undertaking.

That's why I am proposing to allow Alaskans to use a Pick.Click.Give. method to apply portions of their Permanent Fund dividend toward investing in a North Slope natural gas pipeline. I believe this will get Alaskans reinvigorated about our robust oil and gas industry by allowing them the opportunity to have an equity share in the project, or, in other words, own a piece of the pipe. This amendment would essentially allow Alaskans to buy stock in the pipeline and earn interest on their investment.

The amendment I introduced to SB 138 does that by directing the Department of Revenue to figure out the best way to accomplish this kind of program by working with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to make sure that families don't find themselves in a circumstance where they lose.

In 2009, I spearheaded and the Legislature passed an Omnibus Energy package, which created the Emerging Energy Technology Fund to fund emerging technologies, set up a $250 million low-interest revolving loan fund to fund energy efficiency improvements in public buildings, and mandated energy efficiency retrofits in 25 percent of the largest public buildings by 2020. The legislation also set the goals of having 50 percent of the state's electricity come from renewable resources by 2025 and a 15 percent improvement to energy efficiency per capita by 2020.

During those discussions, we considered adding an investment component. The public responded favorably to it but it was premature. Now, after seeing how that legislation changed the way Alaskans related to renewable energy, I think getting Alaskans intimately involved could do the same for the monumental task for building a North Slope gas pipeline.

Together, we can once again feel the enthusiasm and hope I felt as that little girl watching Alaska blossom from a fledgling economic region to a world class powerhouse. All we have to do now is invest ourselves. I'm ready for the dream to become reality, How about you?

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage and chair of the Senate Rules Committee, has served in the state Legislature since 2001 and represents District K.

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