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Our Opinion: It could be a gas

April 12, 2001

When faced with a crisis, officials sometimes have to think of new ways to do things.

That is exactly what the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors is doing. The crisis facing the district is the rising cost of producing energy, a cost that could continue to go up because of a violently fluctuating natural gas market. Natural gas fuels IID's power plants.

The district's latest idea is for the district to buy a natural gas field. In doing so it would have its own source of natural gas and no longer have to depend on a costly open market.

The district could save money, at least in theory. That is the important point. This is all theory. There are a lot of variables to be considered.

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So while we applaud the board for looking at options to benefit power customers, we urge caution. We are concerned this is all happening much too quickly. From the information we have seen, IID has been looking at this idea for a few months. Only recently did the district make the issue public.

Tuesday's board meeting was the first time there was an open-session discussion on the issue. Board President Andy Horne has pointed out the board does have a natural gas field in mind and the board would have to bid on it by the end of this month. All anyone on the board will say is it will cost hundreds of millions to invest in such a field.

Again, we understand the board has to be cautious about divulging too much information on what it will bid. However, that does not alleviate our concern that the board is moving at a fast clip, particularly when one assumes neither the IID directors nor the district employees are experts on natural gas field purchases.

The district has to consider several issues within a short time. It has to know whether the field will provide enough supply to meet the local need. It has to consider how to transport the natural gas from the field to the Valley. It has to consider the money matter, which means going after bond financing. It has to consider whether the amount it would pay annually would be less than what it would pay for natural gas on the open market.

If those issues can be positively addressed, the well field could work. Yet there are other options that could be examined. First, the board could pursue a long-term contract with a natural gas supplier. Another idea is the board could continue to seek gas on the open market and hope costs go down. Perhaps the crisis will not last and costs will go way down so that none of this discussion will be necessary.

Prices likely will never return to what they once were. The board is right to seek some kind of action to address the problem. The board just needs to be sure the action it is taking is the right one for its tens of thousands of customers.

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