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JUNEAU - Many Juneau residents experienced a strong sensation of déjà vu on Jan. 12 when an avalanche took out one of the transmission towers linking the Snettisham hydroelectric power plant to Juneau.
Avalanche strikes the same place twice 012109 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly JUNEAU - Many Juneau residents experienced a strong sensation of déjà vu on Jan. 12 when an avalanche took out one of the transmission towers linking the Snettisham hydroelectric power plant to Juneau.

Photos Courtesy Of Alaska Electric Light And Power

January 12, 2009: In the past 10 months, two avalanches have knocked down Tower 3/5 on the Snettisham line which provides hydroelectric power to Juneau.


Photos Courtesy Of Alaska Electric Light And Power

April 16,2008

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By the numbers

Date of damage: April 16, 2008
Number of towers destroyed: 3
Cost to repair: $3 million
Time to repair 40 days
Rate charged: 54 cents per KWh

Date of damage: Jan. 12, 2009
Number of towers destroyed: 1
Cost to repair: $1.7 million (estimate)
Time to repair 30 days (estimate)
Rate charged: 30 cents per KWh (est.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Story last updated at 1/21/2009 - 11:41 am

Avalanche strikes the same place twice

JUNEAU - Many Juneau residents experienced a strong sensation of déjà vu on Jan. 12 when an avalanche took out one of the transmission towers linking the Snettisham hydroelectric power plant to Juneau.

On April 16, 2008 - just nine months ago - an avalanche took out three towers along the Snettisham lines, forcing Juneau to rely on diesel generators to supply their electricity for 40 days until the towers were repaired.

This time around, everyone seemed to know what to do. Businesses and residents alike immediately began dimming their lights and turning down the heat.

David McDaniel, a manager at Wal-Mart, said that the store still has a lot of energy-saving items left over from the last power crisis in April.

"A lot of people are prepared from the last time," McDaniel said.

He said he has seen a rise in sales of heat pellets, but not a dramatic stock-up on food or power-saving light bulbs. The store itself has cut as many lights as they could with customer safety in mind, and they have unplugged displays that draw unnecessary power.

Prior to the Jan. 12 avalanche, AEL&P customers were still using about 8 percent less electricity than in previous years, mainly due to conservation efforts maintained after the first energy crisis. As of Jan. 18, energy use was down an additional 22 percent from the day of the avalanche, according to AEL&P.

Juneau resident Linda Hendrickson has gone through her home once again, unplugging appliances and turning off unnecessary lights.

"This time I thought, 'How can they possibly do this twice?'" Hendrickson said.

Alaska Electric Light and Power (AEL&P), the utility company which is the sole provider of electricity to Juneau, is not happy about the situation either.

"I hate that we're going through this," said AEL&P Vice President Scott Willis. "I hate that our community ... has to deal with this again."

Still, Willis sees some brightness in a dark situation.

"Things are moving much more smoothly than they did last time," he said. "We learned a lot about logistics (during the last avalanche). We learned what we needed to make a camp at Snettisham that could hold 30 construction workers. We knew good engineers and contractors to call. We learned about communicating with the public."

Preventative measures

Prior to the April 16 avalanche, AEL&P had not monitored anywhere along the Snettisham transmission line. After that avalanche, Willis told the CCW, "Now that we've had this dramatic event, I'm telling people we'll be monitoring so an event like this won't happen (again)."

AEL&P hired avalanche specialist Bill Glude to monitor avalanche potential along the Snettisham transmission route. Every morning he reported the risk to AEL&P. When avalanche danger reached a critical point, Glude took a helicopter up and dropped dynamite in the chute, creating a small harmless avalanche to break up the potential for a larger slide.

One such mission was scheduled for Jan. 11, the day before the avalanche, but low clouds prevented helicopters from flying.

Paying for it

Once again, AEL&P will file for an emergency Cost of Power Adjustment (COPA) with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska. After the April 16 avalanche, the COPA increased electricity costs to 54 cents a kilowatt-hour for Juneau residents.

AEL&P announced Jan. 15 that the E-COPA for the diesel generation during the current avalanche repair should be about 20 cents per kilowatt-hour. Added to the normal winter base rate of 9.6 cents per kilowatt-hour, the total residential rate will be around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Costumers will see the higher rate reflected on electric bills sent out after Feb. 12.

"That's much lower than it was last year," Willis said. "That's good news for (everyone)."

But just because the rate won't be as high as it was last spring doesn't mean that electric bills will automatically be lower. Residents tend to use much more electricity during winter months, especially if they primarily use electric heat.

According to AEL&P statistics, the average residence in Juneau used 625 KWh in May of 2008, a 24 percent decrease over paying an average of $325 on their electric bill. with a 24% decrease in energy usage.

The average Juneau home uses 1,089 kilowatt-hours of electricity during the month of January. With the proposed rate increase, this would cost $327.

So homes can rest assured that they don't have to conserve nearly as much as they did last year. As long as they conserve something, they will see a smaller bill than they did in May.

Help?

But what if that bill is still too high?

After the first avalanche, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly allocated $3 million to energy assistance funds. This time around, mayor Bruce Botelho has announced that he will recommend to the assembly to not offer aid if the crisis only lasts a month.

Last time, $2 million was given to United Way to help residents in need with their bills, and the Juneau Economic Development Council was given $1 to assist small businesses. More than $1 million was returned to the city unused.

"If the assembly decides to give money again, we're happy to help," said Brenda Hewitt, executive director of United Way. "All the partners that were playing last time have all stepped (back) up."

And if any money is allocated, help will be on the way much sooner.

"It'll be a lost faster this time," Hewitt said. "We're not reinventing the wheel."

The Juneau Unplugged group, which formed during the first energy crisis, continues to offer energy-saving tips, updates and resources online at juneauunplugged.com.

Luckily for those who are balking at high energy bills, the first week following the avalanche contained some unseasonably warm weather and opportunities to easily conserve. But the average January and February temperature is still much colder than the average spring temperature. Hearty souls who may have turned down their heat completely last spring may now be asking themselves, How cold is too cold?

"I guess that's for everyone to decide for themselves," Willis said. "Maybe it's just turning the thermostat down two degrees and wearing a sweater."

Willis urges costumers to switch fuels to those that will save electricity. But he cautioned, "Whatever you do for heating, do it safely. Things that need open flames, don't use those for heat."

Cleaning up

AEL&P is contracting again with the same Anchorage-based engineering and construction firms that clean up the first avalanche - Dryden & LaRue and City Electric.

Workers began cleaning up the site Jan. 15.

The damaged structure this time around was one of the three destroyed in April. It's known as structure 3/5.

The repair is scheduled to take about 4 weeks and is estimated to cost $1.7 million.

Last time, the damaged tower was replaced. This time, the transmission line will be directly rerouted from structure ¾ to structure 4/1.

"There are several advantages to this plan," said Eric Eriksen, AEL&P Vice President of Transmission and Distribution in a press release. "One of the most important is that it eliminates a structure which would always be vulnerable to avalanches in the future."

Said Willis: "It looks like (3/5) is more vulnerable and susceptible to avalanches. (Removing the tower completely) is a big change that will help us be more reliable in the future."

It seems a new lesson can be added to the list of "lessons learned" collected after the first avalanche: Like lightning, avalanches can strike the same place twice.

give money again, we're happy to help," said Brenda Hewitt, executive director of United Way. "All the partners that were playing last time have all stepped (back) up."

And if any money is allocated, help will be on the way much sooner.

"It'll be a lost faster this time," Hewitt said. "We're not reinventing the wheel."

The Juneau Unplugged group, which formed during the first energy crisis, continues to offer energy-saving tips, updates and resources online at juneauunplugged.com.

Luckily for those who are balking at high energy bills, the first week following the avalanche contained some unseasonably warm weather and opportunities to easily conserve. But the average January and February temperature is still much colder than the average spring temperature. Hearty souls who may have turned down their heat completely last spring may now be asking themselves, How cold is too cold?

"I guess that's for everyone to decide for themselves," Willis said. "Maybe it's just turning the thermostat down two degrees and wearing a sweater."

Willis urges costumers to switch fuels to those that will save electricity. But he cautioned, "Whatever you do for heating, do it safely. Things that need open flames, don't use those for heat."

Cleaning up

AEL&P is contracting again with the same Anchorage-based engineering and construction firms that clean up the first avalanche - Dryden & LaRue and City Electric.

Workers began cleaning up the site Jan. 15.

The damaged structure this time around was one of the three destroyed in April. It's known as structure 3/5.

The repair is scheduled to take about 4 weeks and is estimated to cost $1.7 million.

Last time, the damaged tower was replaced. This time, the transmission line will be directly rerouted from structure ¾ to structure 4/1.

"There are several advantages to this plan," said Eric Eriksen, AEL&P Vice President of Transmission and Distribution in a press release. "One of the most important is that it eliminates a structure which would always be vulnerable to avalanches in the future."

Said Willis: "It looks like (3/5) is more vulnerable and susceptible to avalanches. (Removing the tower completely) is a big change that will help us be more reliable in the future."

It seems a new lesson can be added to the list of "lessons learned" collected after the first avalanche: Like lightning, avalanches can strike the same place twice.


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