Skip the pipeline, we'll turn the gas into electricity says Alaska utility


By: SGN Staff


Quick Take: Faced with some of the country's highest electricity prices and delays to gas pipelines, a coalition including a small Alaska utility is proposing to make electricity instead. They propose to burn natural gas to produce power for rural and interior Alaska. -  Jesse Berst


The Alaska Village Electric Cooperative has teamed with a Native America corporation (which includes a former subsidiary of Arco Alaska) and is pitching the concept to state legislators. Nearly 80% of the energy to heat rural Alaska homes comes from burning diesel fuel. For poor residents, home energy eats up almost half their household income.


"We haven't considered electric heat as a viable energy source in this state and that's where we've missed the boat," said Meera Kohler, president and chief executive of the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative as quoted by the Anchorage Daily News. Decades ago, a study found that electricity produced from a natural-gas-fueled power plant could be transmitted south and sold at competitive rates. Although the project made sense financially, the Alaska government became fixated on a natural gas pipeline instead.


The Alaska government is still pushing a pipeline all these years later. But the window may have closed due to cheap natural gas in the lower 48 thanks to fracking. The alternative plan calls for a natural gas plant and an 860-mile high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power line at an estimated cost of $4 billion. An analysis by ABB and others suggested the power could be delivered for 9.3 cents / kWh - far less than the state's average of 16.5 cents / kWh.


Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.


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