University of Alaska may consider natural gas for replacement of UA Fairbanks power plant


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FAIRBANKS, Alaska — The University of Alaska may consider natural gas for its proposed new power plant at UA Fairbanks after an initial design for a coal-fired plant came in well over budget.

UA President Pat Gamble told legislators in Juneau that an initial design for a new plant using coal came in much higher than the $245 million appropriated by the Legislature last year for the project, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ( reported Thursday.

A main goal will be to redesign the plant to avoid asking the legislature for more money, Gamble said. By the time the redesign is ready, natural gas could be available.

"If there's going to be a delay in terms of bringing the power plant online then we need to assess the recent efforts to try to bring gas to Fairbanks and see if there's a crossover point at some point where the gas option is a more viable option than simply continuing with the plant right now," he said.

Costs for using natural gas were initially deemed too high, he said. A natural gas power plant is cheaper up front, but the higher cost of fuel makes it a more expensive option than coal, he said.

However, natural gas prices could fall if the state pursues efforts to truck or pipe natural gas to Fairbanks. The university is not an active participant in those efforts, Gamble said, but is a "very interested observer."

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said demand by UAF could help natural gas prospects in Fairbanks with economies of scale and "make it pretty competitive."

The current power plant also supplies heat to some UAF buildings. They had to be closed during recent power plant failures.

Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner,

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