Story last updated at 1/14/2009 - 10:38 am
JUNEAU - For the second time in a year, an avalanche has taken down the Snettisham transmission line that supplies the city with electricity.
The avalanche this afternoon took out one tower, causing about 15,000 homes and businesses to lose power around 1:40 p.m. today. The city grid is online, once again being powered by diesel generators.
Last April, avalanches downed transmission towers, kept Juneau on costly diesel for a month and a half, and caused residents to conserve its electricity usage by one-third.
"We were trying to do everything we could to control avalanches in that area," said Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. spokesman Scott Willis.
He said people should shift back into conservation mode.
AEL&P upped its avalanche prevention after last year's crisis by hiring Alaska Avalanche Specialists. The experts monitor the snowpack and weather all year. When avalanche danger increases, they go out in helicopters and drop explosives. Starting small avalanches lessens the possibility of a big one.
This avalanche was natural, not manmade.
Avalanche specialists were out yesterday setting off small avalanches from helicopters on the transmission line.
But the ceiling of clouds was quite low yesterday, Willis said, and the avalanche experts couldn't fly all the way up the mountain. He said he suspected the snow that took out the tower today came from above that ceiling.
The company inspected the line by helicopter this afternoon. The crew saw enough to learn that a tower was down, but not enough to know how long it will take to fix it.
"We could be on diesel for some time to come," Willis said. "The linemen aren't even on the ground yet, so we don't know how severe the damage is."
Willis said the tower is one of those that were downed last spring.
The tower was the last area that AEL&P's crew was able to reach safely last spring to repair. The avalanche danger is high there, and visibility is tough in snowstorms.
Willis said the company has spare parts to repair the tower. AEL&P used its spare parts this spring, but replenished them afterward, he said.
After last year's disaster, AEL&P hired contractors to look into how the company could protect or move the Snettisham line to prevent it from happening again. That report is due early this year.
Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.