OPINION: Cold winter underscores Alaska’s need for reliable heat and power

A recent joint hearing of the House and Senate Resources committee I attended in Juneau laid bare the importance of natural gas to Southcentral residents and businesses.

The brutality of this winter has been a wake-up call for Southcentral Alaska about the importance of reliable energy. When temperatures collapsed to the minus 20s in parts of Anchorage and minus 40s in parts of the Mat-Su, reliability was the difference between life and death other companies were looking for.

In a nutshell, natural gas saved the day in our moment of need. During the coldest week of winter, Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska, a gas storage system managed by Enstar, started experiencing issues with a portion of its reservoir network, compromising its ability to supply a full complement of gas to utility customers throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Thanks to fossil fuels, a crisis was averted. Even as we used a record amount of natural gas on Jan. 31 — 268 million cubic feet, versus a typical January demand of 160 million cubic feet — our heat and power systems remained intact. Hilcorp, Alaska’s dominant natural gas producer, increased its production beyond its contracted volumes. Other Cook Inlet producers ran full throttle. This was the difference between heat and light in our homes instead of cold and darkness.

It should be a moment to celebrate. Traditional energy solutions worked, as they have in Southcentral Alaska since the Swanson River field was first developed in the 1950s.

Instead of a simple thank-you, lawmakers were more interested in scoring political points to advance their green agenda. Sen. Bill Wielechowski harangued Hilcorp over its profit margins rather than focusing on assisting producers to be able to drill gas. Rep. Donna Mears’ questioning of presenters took on a “petroleum is bad” tenor. It was language consistent with a state Democratic party platform considering a call for an end to all oil drilling and fracking.

The level of indignation toward the very companies capable of solving any supply shortages was astonishing. Rather than learn from the experience, the legislators were content to have avoided the bullet while acting as if nothing had happened and the threat had been permanently averted.


That’s not the way to govern. Turning away from reliable energy sources is no future.

Alaska is blessed with abundant natural resources. We have a century’s worth of coal reserves in Healy, nearly 150 years of Railbelt-wide demands of natural gas waiting to be brought down from the North Slope and nearly two trillion cubic feet of gas waiting to be produced in Cook Inlet.

Look at all the progress underway in our state from traditional sources of energy. Companies like Santos are hard at work extracting oil from the Pikka oil field. Ditto with ConocoPhillips Inc. and its Willow project on the North Slope. Hilcorp has revitalized the Prudhoe Bay area, and there are other companies looking to begin production in the coming years.

Another boom could be just around the corner. The issue isn’t a shortage of supply. It’s a lack of willpower to invest in projects and producers. Finding paths to get those supplies to market should be the priority for lawmakers the rest of this session. This mission most certainly should take priority over anti-market renewable portfolio standards.

Without reliable, affordable energy for Southcentral — and all of the Railbelt — people living on the margin from inflation and higher prices are at risk of falling off the financial cliff. Outmigration will explode, businesses will close, homelessness will increase, and social unrest won’t be out of the question.

Renewables are not the answer and won’t be anytime soon. In the recent cold snap, hydro, wind, and solar accounted for less than one-seventh of our power. If we are to survive another rough winter storm, our government officials should be calling for more of what works — Alaska natural gas — and not appeasing their green donors who reside in warm San Francisco and balmy Seattle who invest in failed wind and solar.

If we had listened to those pushing a not-ready-for-prime-time renewables “solution,” the result could have been widespread burst pipes in homes and businesses. The damage to the underlying infrastructure could have taken months or even years to fix. Even worse, under those conditions, widespread blackouts and even loss of life could have occurred. These are very real — and tragic — consequences if we don’t have heat and power available when we need it.

But we did because fossil fuels delivered. They are the good guys. Thankfully, they are in plentiful supply in our state. They deliver, they work, they power our everyday lives, and will for decades.

Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska state director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at Rick@PowerTheFuture.com and follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @PTFAlaska.

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