Alaska Journal of Commerce

Utilities update RCA on Railbelt grid upgrades

Leaders of the state’s largest electric utilities submitted a draft plan to state regulators on Dec. 22 outlining how they will address more than $900 million of needed infrastructure upgrades.

The early-stage business plan, developed in conjunction with Wisconsin-based American Transmission Co., is an update for the Regulatory Commission of Alaska on the utilities’ efforts to form the Alaska Railbelt Transmission Co.

For Sullivan, focus on foreign policy, fulfilling promises

It has been a busy first year in Congress for Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan. Elected in November 2014, the former state Natural Resources Commissioner and Attorney General took office in January in the new Republican-controlled Congress.

Sullivan has an increasing role in foreign policy with his military background — he still serves in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve — and his U.S. State Department experience, where he was Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business from 2006-09.

Walker plans for better relations with Legislature

What a long, strange trip it’s been — and that was only year one.

In his first year in office, Gov. Bill Walker faced unprecedented state budget deficits; an obstinate Legislature, which would eventually sue him; an historic presidential visit; and an oh so precarious state economy, all the while trying to put his mark on an immense natural gas pipeline project led by three of the largest companies that has for years been his overwhelming desire for Alaska.

Despite those challenges and countless others, some self-inflicted, Walker still embraces the gubernatorial post.

Alyeska pouring efforts into cold-weather ops

It has been a warm winter so far, and operators of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System operators are thankful. But winter has just begun, and the worry of cold temperatures in Interior Alaska and a midwinter “event” that halts pipeline operations, like what happened in 2011, is never far from mind.

Since that suspenseful event when Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. engineers were concerned they couldn’t restart the pipeline, they have been aggressive about putting countermeasures in place.

Leg. Council seeks help from AIDEA with Anchorage LIO

The Legislative Council is hoping the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority can help it out of an untenable situation, while keeping legislators in their Anchorage offices.

Council members voted unanimously Dec. 19 to recommend the full Legislature not pay the $3.3 million per year lease it has for the Anchorage Legislative Information Office, or LIO.

User conflicts over halibut, salmon on horizon for 2016

The year about to end saw the beginnings of some fisheries regulations and legal battles that will either resolve, or present further issues, in 2016.

Halibut has dominated the federal fisheries agenda for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the Exclusive Economic Zone from three to 200 miles off the coast. Shrinking halibut stocks and dual management have collided to produce a fishery bitterly divided among bycatch users, directed users, and charter anglers struggling to make ends meet with fewer legally harvestable fish.

New year will reveal impacts to economy from budget cuts

There is a strong sense of uncertainty regarding Alaska’s near term economic future in state industry circles, while basic indicators continue to show growth.

The state’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in November, steady from October and down very slightly from a year ago.

A 6.4 percent unemployment rate is significant for Alaska, as it hasn’t been less than 6.3 percent in the nearly 40 years the state Labor Department has tracked the metric.

Unemployment is less than 6 percent in the state’s urban hubs.

A critical year lies ahead for Alaska LNG Project agreements

The coming year is a critical one for the Alaska LNG Project. Continued progress on Alaska LNG is vital to Alaska’s long-term economy, and the state budget. If targets are missed, the state’s future, already cloudy because of short-term state revenue issues, will be challenged.

If the project does proceed, the sales of natural gas from the North Slope, as liquefied natural gas, or LNG, will bring new petroleum revenues to the state to replace declining oil income.

North Slope companies to keep up spending

What lies ahead for Alaska’s oil and gas industry in 2016?

The overwhelming unknown is the price of crude oil, and whether it will continue to go down, stabilize or creep upward as has been predicted.

What is causing the slump is well known. There’s too much oil supply on the market and on the demand side, the economic slowdown in China has taken the wind out the world commodities boom, affecting not just oil but also metal prices.

Retail legalization of marijuana will become reality in 2016

Rules governing the recreational cannabis industry were mostly settled at the state level in 2015, but 2016 will be Alaska marijuana’s true birth. Regulators will issue business licenses; cannabis businesspeople will open doors amid both known and yet-to-be-decided restrictions, and the state will punish, forgive, or ignore a fistful of gray market marijuana operations.

State bonds, federal money could help transportation infrastructure in ‘16

Alaska’s dependence on reliable transportation networks stands out when compared to other states.

In most other places, small airports, ferries and new roads and bridges are an afterthought; here they are the subject of intense scrutiny and play a major role in many aspects of life.

State, local leaders discuss PILT split from AK LNG Project

Who should get what portion of $16.5 billion from the Alaska LNG Project?

That’s the question the Municipal Advisory Gas Project Review Board is beginning to try to answer.

The huge sum of money in question is what would go to local governments and the State of Alaska in the form of municipal impact payments and payments in-lieu of taxes, or PILT, if the Alaska LNG Project is realized. 

AGDC board taps former VP as interim president

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. began formally regrouping Dec. 18 when Fritz Krusen was named interim president and other board of directors positions were settled.

Krusen previously held a vice president position with AGDC focusing on the Alaska LNG Project.

YEAR IN REVIEW: New production by ConocoPhillips highlights ‘15

ConocoPhilliips had a busy 2015 on the North Slope, completing two new oil projects and planning two others, despite the plunge in crude oil prices.

Late in the year the company’s CD-5 project, near the Alpine field on the western Slope, was completed and began production. Earlier in the fall ConocoPhillips completed its Drill Site 2-S in the Kuparuk River field, and it is also now producing.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Federal agenda dominated by halibut bycatch concerns

Halibut dominated the federal fisheries process in 2015, with each sector fighting over reduced allocations.

Directed halibut fishermen in the North Pacific have watched their quotas drop while the trawl industry prosecuting Bering Sea groundfish has had a relatively static bycatch limit for 20 years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs bycatch while the International Pacific Halibut Commission governs directed removals, and the two have not coordinated on the decline in harvestable halibut biomass.

Banks warn of impacts for breaking Anchorage LIO lease

Editor's note: This story has been modified from the first version posted online to reflect the owner of the Anchorage office as 716 West Fourth Avenue LLC, of which developer Mark Pfeffer is a member, and to include the correct number of appraisals on the building which was four and not three as originally written.

The Alaska Legislature’s 10-year lease on its 64,000-square-foot office building in Anchorage has become a political football, possibly a preview of fireworks to come in the 2016 legislative session.

Gov’s budget plan scrutinized by legislators on both sides

Both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature are beginning to pick apart Gov. Bill Walker’s fiscal plan as details come to the surface after its unveiling Dec. 9.

Senate President Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said Dec. 11 that the Senate Majority would not support a broad-based tax on Alaskans without spending cuts beyond what Walker is proposing in his 2017 fiscal year budget. The fiscal year begins next July 1.

Council tightens Southcentral charter halibut rules for ‘16

The ratchet keeps tightening on Southcentral halibut charter operations, among other groups, and relief measures are still stuck in development.

The level of legally harvestable halibut in the North Pacific has dropped for a decade, and though biologists think the biomass has stabilized, downsized fishermen continue to fight for as much valuable quota as possible. Charter guides who’ve seen their portion drop want a way to buy quota from commercial operators.

YEAR IN REVIEW: Five-year transportation bill provides stable funding to Alaska

President Barack Obama signed the $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act Dec. 4, approving the nation’s first long-term transportation funding legislation in more than a decade.

Known as the FAST Act, the bill provides five years of funding aimed at improving rail, road and marine infrastructure. It passed both the House and Senate by wide margins the day prior to being signed by the president.

All three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation supported the legislation.

YEAR IN REVIEW: GCI completes wireless acquisition; Arctic fiber advances

Alaska’s two largest telecommunications companies are showing positive growth after shuffling the state’s wireless customers.

In 2014, General Communications Inc. agreed to a $300 million deal with to Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc for all the latter company’s wireless subscribers and 33 percent of Alaska Wireless Network, a combination of both companies’ wireless infrastructure.

ACS has used the proceeds from the deal to pay down its debt, and now focuses on its broadband business.

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