Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:25 PM on Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let's keep big picture in mind as fine points of gas line get decided


For awhile, it may have seemed like getting Gov. Sean Parnell to sign off on money in the state capital budget to get natural gas to Homer and Kachemak City was the biggest hurdle in the way of lowering the area's energy costs.

But since the money has been approved by the governor, it's clear a lot of work still lies ahead before area residents and business owners enjoy the benefits of cheaper energy.

As the Homer City Council and administrators work to figure out the nitty-gritty of getting gas to Homer residents and businesses, it's important to keep the big picture in mind. Natural gas isn't the panacea that will cure all of Homer's ills, but it certainly will help lower Homer's cost of living. If it doesn't help fuel new business, it will at least help stabilize current businesses by lowering their costs. It will give both residents and businesses a much-needed financial break.

That's not to say it won't cost home and business owners to hook into natural gas. It will. And one of the frustrating things as details are hammered out about how best to get gas to those who want and need it is, no one can say exactly what that cost will be. At least not yet. It is safe to say, however, the return on investment quickly will be realized. Bill Smith, who represents Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, has crunched more than a few numbers on the savings that can be realized with natural gas. His numbers show that a 2,266-square-foot, two-story house with an oil boiler and an annual cost for heat and water of $3,437 would have an annual cost for natural gas of $1,173. For that same home, Smith estimated the conversion to natural gas would cost $1,870 plus $1,050 for the service line and meter, for a total investment of $2,920 and a 100 percent return on investment in 16 months. That's the big picture to keep in mind.

But there are so many questions to be answered. At a work session Monday night, council members were urged to consider the disruption to the city that will be caused by the installation of the gas line. Should the work be done all at once or in phases? How much disruption will the work cause? Is it best to get it over and done with or spread it out? What's the difference in cost? How should the distribution line be financed — through the borough or through the city?

Then, there are those who see government's involvement in the gas line as helping a particular business — namely, Enstar. The fact is, however, without government's involvement, Homer residents wouldn't be getting cheaper energy. The gas line should be viewed as necessary infrastructure — just like roads, airports and docks. One of government's legitimate roles is to help fund the infrastructure needed so private enterprise can thrive. That's the other part of the big picture that needs to be kept in mind as the city hammers out the finer points of how to get gas flowing in Homer.

We suspect the discussions ahead will be grueling. There are tough decisions to be made, tough decisions that need to be made quickly. As the council discusses the most efficient, cost effective way to distribute gas to Homer residents and businesses, let's all hope it will be the Divine, not the Devil, that's in the details.