Southcentral Alaska residents, including about 40 percent of CIRI’s shareholders, face a looming energy crisis as Cook Inlet gas production declines and shows little sign of rejuvenating in the near future.
CIRI believes that to supplement the region’s heavy reliance on cheap Cook Inlet gas, the region needs new solutions to meet its heating and power generation needs. The company maintains that the way forward is a diversified portfolio of regional energy resources and projects that can provide reliable, timely, competitively priced energy.
To this end, CIRI is investigating, investing in and developing a variety of new energy projects in the region, from Cook Inlet gas exploration and the Fire Island wind project to geothermal and environmentally responsible alternative coal developments.
Company officials have spent the last year investigating a mature – but little known in the western world – energy technology called underground coal gasification (UCG). CIRI believes it can use UCG to produce energy from coal for Southcentral Alaska without the negative environmental impacts associated with traditional coal mining, transportation and handling.
The year of diligence has proven successful enough that the company is developing a UCG project on CIRI lands on the west side of Cook Inlet. Initial plans will have the project fuel a new 100- megawatt combined-cycle power plant.
UCG takes place deep underground, far below any groundwater aquifers. The process converts coal into syngas (also known as synthesis gas) that can be used to generate electricity for Southcentral Alaska, or can be upgraded into synthetic natural gas or clean liquid fuels.
UCG requires minimal surface infrastructure or disruption and leaves most coal byproducts contained safely deep underground in the coal seam where they started. UCG is not coal bed methane, which occurs in much shallower coal seams and has adverse environmental effects.