OPINION: Dunleavy deserves thanks for bold move on Cook Inlet gas

The Railbelt utilities are under pressure to make changes, but it is not clear what energy sources they need to change to. With pressure from decreasing natural gas in Cook Inlet, fear of the CO2 accumulating in our atmosphere or the fear that Alaska is warming four times faster than elsewhere in the world, there is a sense throughout Alaska that we need to do something now, something different. I have been advocating that we need a long-term plan for the Railbelt system before acting rashly, as all of the possible solutions for energy security for the Railbelt are a decade or more down the road.

I recently wrote that the best immediate approach should be for the leadership, both governmental and business, to do whatever is necessary to incentivize all potential gas producers around Cook Inlet to provide the needed increase in natural gas. A recent article in the ADN related that Gov. Mike Dunleavy and his administration plan to introduce a bill during the next legislative session to increase incentives for producers, such as reducing the royalty rate on the produced gas from the Cook Inlet fields.

If this process is a success, we will have some time to determine what our base source of energy will be for the long term — geothermal energy, hydrogen or liquefied natural gas from the North Slope — and provide for its incorporation into the Railbelt utilities’ power mix. If we could not gain access to the additional Cook Inlet natural gas, my next suggestion would be to build more power plants in Healy and use the available coal. I encourage people to read Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire” to gain an understanding of what can happen if we get energy wrong in Alaska.

With that solution in the works, we need to look at the energy needs of mining projects. Since the great concern now is to provide materials necessary for the building of batteries and wind turbine blades, it seems prudent to utilize renewable energy sources to power the mines which are developed far from existing power sources. With concern for the destruction of Alaska roads by many heavy trucks, local electric power sources could provide for the mining and refining of minerals. This to me seems of greater urgency than transitioning the Railbelt utilities to renewable sources. Such action would provide motivation to permit the mines if they were self-supporting their power systems.

Also of greater urgency is the search for base source fuels for our remote communities, remote industrial sites and remote mines. My vision has been for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis at these locations, and conversion to methanol or another liquid form of fuel from the hydrogen that would be easy to store and able to be fuel for reciprocating engine-driven generators, which would operate in place of the diesel-fueled generators used now.

To have low-cost energy, we need to produce a lot of electricity that can be marketed for industrial applications that are profit-making entities which will help drive the rate per kWh lower. If all we did was conserve energy, reduce our loads and only have electricity when the wind blows and the sun shines, we would not have cheap energy or a resilient reliable, sustainable system. Batteries cannot be used for long-term energy storage (from summer to winter), so we will need geothermal power, hydropower, nuclear power or a fuel that emulates the hydrocarbon fuels we are trying to replace.

For now, let’s get behind the effort to secure more natural gas from Cook Inlet quickly, in a manner that is beneficial to all and provides affordable power while providing time to develop the power of the future.


Robert Seitz is a professional electrical engineer (PE) and lifelong Alaskan.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.