Enstar heating up with big plans

Posted: Friday, February 17, 2006


  Enstar is working to bring natural gas to new customers and to secure additional sources of product to sell. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Enstar is working to bring natural gas to new customers and to secure additional sources of product to sell.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Enstar continued to grow at a steady pace in 2005, adding some 350 new customers to its list of 10,500 on the Kenai Peninsula. Growth is expected to continue at that rate in 2006, as well, according to Charlie Pierce, local division manager.

The big news for the utility, though, has less to do with its number of local customers than it does with the supply of natural gas and the price those customers pay for it. Last year saw Enstar awarded a $4 million grant from the federal government to look into the possibility of routing gas from the North Slope and Nenana Basin to Southcentral, which could shore up supplies and steady the price of gas for customers.

According to Anchorage spokesman Curtis Thayer, this story is Enstar’s year in a nutshell.

“The big news was definitely attaining federal funding for the spur line study,” Thayer said in mid-January.

The study, which the Alaska Senate passed a resolution in support of in January, is intended to determine the economic feasibility of tapping into a proposed larger gas pipeline and building a spur line to Southcentral along a Parks Highway route. In October, work began on the conceptual study in earnest, with Enstar and partners ARSC Energy and Michael Baker Engineering looking at cost estimates, right of way ownership, environmental issues and socioeconomic impacts.

Fairbanks would be a major beneficiary of the spur line project, as its residents have no access to natural gas presently. Benefits to the Cook Inlet include securing a steady supply of natural gas for residential and industrial use.

Enstar recently negotiated a deal with Marathon to ensure supplies through 2010. The deal awaits approval from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska and is under scrutiny for its connection of prices with the Lower 48’s 12-month Henry Hub pricing system. If the deal is approved after the public comment period, there still will be a need for a spur line. Without it or some other way of securing additional supplies, the outlook for natural gas supplies in the Cook Inlet region will be less certain as the decade ends.

Construction jobs would be part of the deal, should the plan go through, but there is much more at stake than temporary jobs.

“An additional supply of natural gas will be a good indicator of economic development in Southcentral Alaska,” Thayer said.

The utility also is forging ahead with plans to continue work on the largest directional drilled pipe in Alaska under the Big Susitna River. The $5 million project carries two-thirds of the natural gas supply shipped to Anchorage.

Headquarters: Anchorage

Manager: Charlie Pierce

Local contact: 262-9334

Employees: 15 full-time

Number of Alaska customers: 330,000

Web site: www.enstarnaturalgas.com

Company outlook: In 2005 Enstar received a $4 million grant to conduct a study on the economics of building a spur gas pipeline to Southcentral Alaska. The study found the line would cost $500 million and provide access to between 38 to 205 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Alaska Senate passed a resolution in January supporting that goal.

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