PUBLISHED: 5:43 PM on Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Applications ready May 16 for energy bill payment assistance
Applications can be picked up at several locations and found on various web sites
JUNEAU - Juneau Unplugged, a City-funded, privately-administered program to provide temporary avalanche-related electric bill payment assistance for lower income households, announced that applications for the program are now available for distribution.

Kevin Ritchie, program administrator, said "we are taking comments and questions on the application and the program. This is new territory for Juneau, and we recognize that we will likely have to make changes as we go along. We look forward to working together with Juneau residents as we all gain experience over the next few weeks and months."

Applications will be accepted after May 16, when the high avalanche-related rates go into effect. In the meantime, eligible households should review the application and get the income verification information ready to submit when they get their next electric bill after May 16. Residents may obtain applications through the City's website and they will soon be available at various locations around Juneau, including Catholic Community Service offices (419 6th Street), public libraries, and City Hall.

The program is funded by the City and Borough of Juneau and administered by United Way of Southeast Alaska and Catholic Community Service.

United Way, KeyBank team up to raise funds

United Way of Southeast Alaska, in partnership with KeyBank, has announced an emergency relief fund to assist low-income Juneau area residents cope with the sudden spike in energy costs resulting from the April 16 landslides that downed five towers running from the Snettisham Hydroelectric plant.

Under the program, called Juneau Unplugged Relief Fund, United Way will oversee and dispense funds donated to the relief effort. Contributors to the tax-deductible funding program will be provided receipts by the United Way.

Companies and individuals are encouraged to make the donations at any of KeyBank's 17 branches throughout Alaska. KeyBank will match donations up to a cumulative total of $5,000.

"Many families in Juneau are suffering from sharply higher power costs at a time when prices for gasoline and food products are also at record levels," said Brenda Hewitt, United Way of Southeast Alaska president and executive director. "The generosity of our entire community - and KeyBank in particular - is crucial to helping needy citizens."

Brian Nerland, president of KeyBank's Alaska District, added, "We applaud United Way's leadership in arranging this emergency fund and we encourage everyone in the state who can help to do so now. They can use our branch offices or call us at 907-564-0252 for more information."

KeyBank offers 17 branch offices in the state, including two in Juneau. They are located downtown at 234 Seward Street; and 8800 Glacier Highway, Suite 101.

Palin signs economic injury disaster request

Gov. Sarah Palin signed a letter May 9 requesting the Small Business Administration (SBA) declare an Economic Injury Disaster for the Juneau area businesses affected by the increased electricity costs due to an avalanche that recently knocked out power transmission lines.

"Small businesses are the heart of our economy and they need our help during this difficult time," Governor Palin said.

Paliin is following the recommendations given by the Disaster Policy Cabinet to seek any and all existing federal help for those affected by the increased electricity prices due to purchasing diesel fuel to supply power to the city.

"The Small Business Administration has provided economic assistance in similar circumstances in Alaska's history and I look forward to a positive response from the Governor's letter requesting assistance," said Maj. Gen. Craig E. Campbell, commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development has certified that Juneau meets the criteria of having at least five small businesses that are suffering substantial economic injury and are in need of federal assistance. The SBA will review the request and may offer low-interest loans to provide help for those qualified businesses.

Palin also said a statewide, short-term energy relief plan will be announced next week. The plan will provide assistance to Alaskans struggling with the current high cost of energy. In addition to the short-term energy relief plan, the Alaska Energy Authority, headed by Energy Coordinator Steve Haagenson, has been conducting town hall meetings in 25 communities across Alaska during April and May to formulate a comprehensive, long-term energy plan for the state.

Crews moving in place to repair towers

Engineers and contractors have been brought in from Anchorage to begin preparations to repair five transmission towers running from the Snettisham Hydroelectric Plant. The towers were damaged during avalanches on April 16.

The lead engineer overseeing repairs is spending about four days of the week at the site, said Gayle Wood, Alaska Electric Light & Power director of Consumer Affairs, along with electrical contractors and support staff - totaling about 30 people.

Wood said crews flown into the site were able to evaluate four of the five tower foundations. The foundation not yet evaluated is still deeply buried by snow. AEL&P officials are hopeful repairs can be completed by late July, if not sooner, but those hopes are contingent on the condition of the unexposed tower.

"The critical missing piece is the condition of the foundation we haven't been able to uncover," Wood said.

Crews are currently building new towers from spare parts and can begin repairs once the sites are no longer an avalanche threat.

"We have a lot of spare tower parts and the contract crew are making good progress," Wood said.

Rain decreasing need for diesel power

AEL&P has been producing more energy lately while using less diesel fuel, according to daily statistics. The reason: Rain water is keeping water levels high at AEL&P's other hydro facilities located at Salmon, Annex and Gold Creeks, thereby generating more hydro power for Juneau.

"Much of that depends on how much we are getting from our other hydro plants," said AEL&P's Scott Willis in an E-mail. "Rainy weather gives us a little more hydro, so we need a little less diesel."