PUBLISHED: 6:05 PM on Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Hydropower restored to Juneau
Some homes will need to conserve until next billing cycle begins
JUNEAU - The energy crisis is over. Some consumers, however, will need to continue conserving for a few more weeks.

Power line repairs to the Snettisham hydroelectric power plant were completed late Sunday, restoring hydropower to all of Juneau.

The switch from diesel fuel back to hydropower was completed at 9:17 p.m. on Sunday, at which time the diesel generators were shut down - which Juneau residents will hope is for a long, long time.

photo courtesy of AEL&P
  A damaged tower is removed from the Snettisham by helicopter as new towers are flown in. Hydropower was restored June 1.
Juneau has relied on diesel fuel, burning around 40,000 gallons per day on average, since avalanches on April 16 damaged five transmission towers running power from the Snettisham hydro electric plant located about 40 miles outside the city.

Scott Willis, an Alaska Electric Light & Power spokesman and vice president within the company, said shutting off the diesel generators earlier than first predicted will result in lower rates during the next billing cycle. The repairs were first projected to take until mid-July or later.

Willis said AEL&P will know later this week how much money will need to be recovered through the Cost of Power Adjustment fee (COPA), but roughly estimated the cost per kilowatt hour to drop to about 15 cents.

The previous rate of 52 cents per kilowatt hour will continue until the billing cycle changes June 16, at which time the new rate will go into affect.

With power restored as of June 1, all AEL&P customers will receive only one large bill, Willis said. Those who already received a bill with energy costs adjusted to 52 cents per kilowatt hour will be charged the lower rate on their next bill released this month. Those who paid the 11 cents per kilowatt hour, the old rate, on their most recent bill will pay 52 cents on their next one.

Willis is still pushing conservation until residents know for sure their rate has dropped.

"There are still people using energy at the 52 cent rate," he said. "Technically, if you've already received your 52 cent bill the next one will be around 15 cents. Many people in town are still using the high rate, though."

Willis said several factors, including sunny weather and less damage to the towers' foundations than first expected, led to the speedy repairs.

Contractors worked at the Snettisham site making repairs for 40 days straight while helicopters airlifted crews in and out.

"Once (the contractors) saw the light at the end of the tunnel, they kicked it into high gear and got the repairs completed," Willis said.

He estimates that about $11 million will be saved by restoring hydropower ahead of schedule and from Juneau's conservation efforts.

Willis said about 40,000 gallons of diesel was burned daily, compared to the estimated 80,000 gallons AEL&P first predicted would be needed. The conservation led to savings of about $160,000 per day. About 2.2 million gallons of diesel was used since the energy crisis began.

Restoring hydropower five weeks earlier than anticipated also saved AEL&P about $1 million per week.

The cost to repair the towers was around $6 million, about half of what was first projected.

Gayle Wood, AEL&P director of consumer affairs, said an engineering firm has been hired to assess how AEL&P can better protect the power lines in the future.

AEL&P released a 30-page report about the Snettisham avalanches last week. The report was prepared by AEL&P Alaska Avalanche Specialists Bill Glude, Don Sharaf and Nancy Pfeiffer and studies the conditions that led to the April 16 slides.

Wood called the slides "a historic avalanche" and said the report suggested the most recent slides could have been the first in hundreds of years.

"This doesn't mean you couldn't have (avalanches) more frequently, but it's been a very long time since there was one in this zone."

Wood said a tree was corded at the Snettisham site that was more than 400 years old.

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Now open on Saturdays

Wood said the utility company will begin holding Saturday hours from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

She said the new hours are to help utility users who have questions about their bill or who would like to explore the "levelized" payment option where the energy rate increase will be spread over a 12-month cycle. Informational packets also were recently mailed to homes and businesses describing the different options.

Charles Westmoreland can be reached at