Saturday, July 31, 2010

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Hollis French Proposes Strategic Gas Initiative To Prevent Wintertime Rolling Blackouts In South Central Alaska

Alaska Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hollis French, who's also a state senator, is my least favorite candidate in a major race in this state. Unlike fellow Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz, a moderate liberal who tries to build bridges, French is generally a hard-left extremist progressive candidate. Many of his solutions are anathema, to include throwing more money at schools (particularly the teachers union) and promoting gay rights. In addition, his most controversial proposal, forcing all Alaskans to buy health insurance, is conspicuously and disingenuously absent from his published platform despite the fact that the enabling legislation, SB61, continues to ominously tick away in the Labor and Commerce committees; his interest in "HollisCare" dates back to 2007, long before Obamacare first became a thrill running up Barack Obama's leg.

But even a blind hog can find an acorn now and again. Hollis French has actually come up with a worthy idea that can prevent the possibility of rolling blackouts in South Central Alaska during periods of peak natural gas usage in winter. French proposes a "Strategic Gas Initiative", which would lead to an emergency storehouse of natural gas in the region to provide the constant natural gas flow necessary to power the compressors supplying electrical power to South Central Alaska. The aging wells in Cook Inlet are reaching the point to where, during peak usage, they cannot provide enough pressure to sustain a satisfactory flow. During the summer, the system will deliver and burn about 20 million cubic feet of gas, but during a particularly cold winter, the same system will need 300 million cubic feet. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan has warned of the possibility of rolling blackouts in Anchorage this winter should a prolonged period of extreme cold (-10F or colder for several consecutive days) occur. A stored natural gas reserve will supply the extra amount necessary to keep the compressors going. This problem is explained in much greater detail with additional media links in this June 6th, 2009 post.

French is flexible about the specific solution, whether the natural gas be stored underground in old wells, above ground in tanks, or delivered here via the LNG plant in Kenai. But he doesn't offer any further details on his website. However, French did introduce a bill, SB203, which would offer a 20 percent tax break to companies who do establish a natural gas storage system.

Nevertheless, two enterpreneurs aren't waiting for a tax break. On Wednesday July 28th, two companies that want to store Cook Inlet natural gas production so it can be used by consumers during the winter said they have applied for a state certificate for the project. Semco Energy Inc. and MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. have formed a joint venture named Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska to complete the enterprise. The joint venture applied with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to own and operate an underground natural gas storage system. They hope to start storing gas starting in the summer of 2012. A 20 percent tax credit would merely sweeten the pot and make the risk more attractive.

French will not win the nomination; in polls where Berkowitz and French are separately matched against different Republican candidates, Berkowitz trails the Republicans by much less than French. The only head-to-head poll between Berkowitz and French was conducted by DRM Market Research in May, and showed Berkowitz clobbering French 48 percent to 17 percent. Since that time, Bob Poe dropped out of the race; since Poe was a moderate, the bulk of his supporters will migrate to Berkowitz. But Hollis French's Strategic Gas Initiative is proof that anyone can come up with a worthwhile idea even if the rest of their program is less palatable. Whoever becomes Alaska's next governor should take this initiative and run with it.

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