Over the last several years I have quietly followed the debate over bringing natural gas to Homer and the more recently proposed Natural Gas Distribution System Special Assessment District. I have read and listened to many comments, attended the “City Neighborhood” meetings, and done some research to become more informed. I feel it is time to weigh in.
I have a strong environmental ethic and support the development of clean power like tidal or wind, but even these energy sources will have their own set of environmental and user conflicts. These sources will most likely focus on electric generation, and will likely not help us heat our homes in the foreseeable future. I believe we must take advantage of natural gas as a start to lower our carbon footprint and make living and running businesses in Homer more affordable.
Natural gas is our cleanest fossil fuel. With respect to CO2 emissions, the Department of Energy data showed that natural gas emits approximately 25 percent less carbon emissions than oil, and more than 50 percent less than coal and wood (greenecon.net). Compared to oil, natural gas emits a fraction of pollutants that contribute to acid rain (80 percent less nitrogen oxides and 99.9 percent less sulfur dioxides).
The CO2 impacts of heating with wood and natural gas are mitigated further by the fact that we have local sources. In contrast, the full environmental impact of oil is underestimated when considering the major refining required for oil and the fact that it is transported many thousands of miles before it reaches Alaska.
The economic benefits of heating with natural gas are substantial. Natural gas is currently about a third of the cost of heating with oil. The city of Homer has done an exemplary job with the difficult task of estimating the cost of converting to natural gas, and objectively presenting the pros and cons of an assessment district. Factoring in users’ contribution to a city-wide distribution system, connecting to the feeder lines, and the cost of conversion to natural gas, most Homer residents will probably fully amortize conversion costs in 2 to 4 years. Even with 13 percent recent natural gas cost adjustment reported in the Nov. 25th Anchorage Daily News, natural gas is 35 percent the cost of heating with oil.
Whether or not the proposed distribution system is passed, natural gas is coming to Homer. The choice seems to be whether we work alone or neighborhood groups to negotiate with Enstar for hookup, or work together as a city? Do we pursue a system for the whole city or — like the water and sewer — only provide the benefits to the downtown, more densely developed areas? Certainly there will be cost efficiencies in doing the whole city at once.
I live in one of the more dense downtown areas, and conceivably might get less expensive hookup without the distribution system, but nevertheless support a city-wide distribution system for the benefit of the city as a whole.
As a community, I think we sometimes fail to see the big picture. Operational cost savings to our hospital, school system and city government are huge. While limited improvement districts may never be completely “fair” to everyone, I offer that it is a good compromise and our best option for a city-wide distribution.
Finally, I applaud the Homer City Council for looking after the interests of all its residents. This is an opportunity for us to work together, decrease our cost of living, and substantially lower our carbon footprint.
Glenn Seaman has lived in Homer since 1999. As a biologist, he worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 28 years, culminating in an effort to design and develop a new Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, which is what brought him to Homer. After retiring from Fish and Game in 2003, he worked for NOAA as a Native liaison until 2009. He recently completed a master’s degree and currently is a consultant working with tribes on natural resource issues.