PUBLISHED: 4:57 PM on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Conservation could decrease energy rate
AEL&P to recalculate energy costs monthly
JUNEAU - City-wide energy conservation efforts could lead to decreased rates in June when AEL&P officials recalculate emergency costs, said Gayle Wood, AEL&P director of consumer affairs.

The current rate of 11 cents per kilowatt per hour is expected to increase to more than 50 cents, Wood said, and rates will be evaluated monthly starting May 1. AEL&P has been shipping in 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel from Seattle daily to run backup generators.

"Right now we're making guesses how much the diesel will cost next month," she said. "We are aware of the beginnings of conservation efforts to help us reduce that consumption, which in the long-run will reduce everyone's bills."

cover illustration by Anna Millard
  100,000 gallons of imported diesel per day, 5 downed electrical towers, 500 percent increase in electricity, and 32,000 glum people living in a dimly-lit Juneau. But city-wide conservation could be the key to cheaper utility rates and offer some light at the end of the tunnel.
Wood said she hopes the energy crisis will subside by Aug. 1 when repairs are made to the five transmission lines running from the Snettisham Power House that were destroyed by avalanches on April 16.

She said it will be weeks before repair crews can attempt to repair the lines because the area is still an avalanche danger zone. Repairs are expected to cost between $5-$10 million and take several months to complete, she said.

The city requested $25 million in assistance to pay for the diesel fuel needed, but Wood said such an option, as nice as it would be, will not reduce the upcoming spike in utility costs. Any monetary assistance would be credited to clients' accounts. The problem, she said, is AEL&P is being billed for diesel fuel now and the company is paying hefty over-time to keep diesel generators operation 24 hours per day.

"With any disaster ... there is never funding to cover the full cost of a disaster," she said. "I think its smarter for all of us to think anything we receive will be a wonderful gift ... but we need to think independently."

photo courtesy of AEL&P
  Five transmission lines running from the Snettisham Power Station located 40 miles outside of Juneau were damaged during avalanches on April 16, cutting off all hydro-power to Juneau.
AEL&P officials lately have been on the receiving end of tongue-lashings through blogs and online forums - accused of using the disaster for profit. Wood contests AEL&P isn't profiting at all and she expects a poor financial year for the company.

"People who say that don't know us," she said of the accusations. "This increase is only covering the cost of diesel. It's basically paying the oil vender bills. It's not going to be a good financial year for AEL&P by any means."

Wood is hopeful some good can come of the crisis, particularly how consumers look at conservation.

"Hopefully this gets people thinking more conservatively for years to come," she said. "A short term economic disaster gives us long-term benefits."

Electric squeeze

Juneau has quickly become the most dimly-lit city in Alaska. Many residents are now living by candlelight, such as Kray Van Kirk, a fisheries biologist and UAS graduate student.

Van Kirk, who is a single father, is going to extremes to conserve energy or else his monthly electric bill could exceed $700.

"Because money is tight as a single dad, we conserve as much as possible," he said. "We went out and bought a bunch of candles and we are doing everything by candlelight. If we can't shave it enough we don't know what we'll do but ask AEL&P to go with an extension plan.

"I'd consider it a crisis because its compounded on increased fuel costs and a mortgage crunch, and not a lot of people have expendable income right now. For families that have three of four kids it's very difficult."

AEL&P officials have discussed extension plans but have not made a final decision yet.

Van Kirk said his 11-year-old daughter has taken to energy conservation well, and even considers it a new game.

"She's all gung-ho about it," he said. "She said she doesn't need a night light said she didn't need a space heater. She's excited about conserving. She wants to do the right thing."

Government adjustment

State and city offices are also trying to do their part to minimize energy usage. Maria Gladziszewski, special projects officer for the city of Juneau, said all city employees were contacted last week about taking immediate steps to conserve.

"A lot of city employees have turned the lights off in their offices and unscrewed bulbs," she said. "We're all in this together, we're all going to be paying these higher bills. We've been fortunate all this time to have clean and relatively cheap power."

Gladziszewski said if the city used as much electricity in the next three months as it did during the same time period last year, the city would end up paying more than $2.5 million for electricity.

Kevin Brooks, deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Administration, also is encouraging state working in Juneau to reduce energy usage. State offices have spent more than $125,000 on electricity during summer months in the past and he said state offices need to get through the remaining fiscal year with money already allotted in the budget for utilities.

The current crisis, Brooks said, is unlike anything he's experienced before.

"It's borderline state of emergency," he said. "Right now everyone is reacting to the figure but when that first bill shows up in the mailbox there will be a stronger reaction."

Lake Dorothy backup

AEL&P was granted permission to increase rates a few months ago when the utility company started using diesel fuel for about 15 percent of the power needed for Juneau. Wood said the Snettisham facility is no longer able to supply enough hydro-power for all of Juneau.

"We anticipate that, given the community's use, that our Snettisham lakes are probably not capable of ... holding enough water to make it through winter without supplemental diesel," she said.

AEL&P hopes to have its Lake Dorothy Power House operational by October 2009. Lake Dorothy will be a high-mountain, three-lake system in the Taku Inland and would be able to supply up to 50 percent of Juneau's power needs in the case of a similar energy crisis. The project is estimated to cost around $60 million.

Charles Westmoreland can be reached at