PUBLISHED: 11:32 AM on Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Energy users rally against paying increase
The second rally opposing May's energy rate increase was met with a low turnout Saturday, but participants say they will continue to oppose Juneau's privately-owned utility company and what they consider to be negligence in managing power lines leading to the city.

Twelve members of the grass roots organization known as the Juneau People's Power Project rallied on the Capital's steps, urging passersby to only pay the old Alaska Electric Light & Power rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. The group is also advocating a publicly-owned utility company to replace AEL&P.

Charles Westmoreland photo
  Members of the Juneau Peoples Power Project demonstrate against paying Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. the full energy rate for May's electricity bills Saturday afternoon at the Capitol. The grassroots organization advocates that consumers pay 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, the rate before the April 16 avalanches, instead of the full rate of 52 cents. The rally drew 12 participants and six onlookers, including AEL&P Vice President Scott Willis.
AEL&P's energy rate skyrocketed to 52 cents per kilowatt-hour on April 16 when massive slides downed transmission lines from the Snettisham hydropower facility. Diesel generators were turned on for six weeks until hydropower was restored June 1.

Rally organizer Albert Petrarca, a 58-year-old healthcare worker, said the low turnout reflects a local mindset of complaining but not resisting. The group faults AEL&P with negligence leading up to the slides.

"There's no history of resistance in Juneau," Petrarca said. "Not everything here can be fixed with a salmon bake. Juneau is in denial about that."

The group's first rally, which was held while power lines were still down, gathered hundreds but Petrarca said Saturday's low turnout, although "disappointing," is not a clear indicator of public opinion.

The group's "Phase II Initiative" includes gathering signatures and pushing for the City and Borough of Juneau to install a publicly-owned utility company.

Cheryl Moralez, one of the group's members who attended the rally, said she paid the old rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour on her most recent bill.

"We have a rule in my house: If you complain about something you'd better be prepared to take action about it," she said.

AEL&P spokesman Scott Willis attended the rally. During an interview with the CCW last week Willis said he hoped residents would pay the full amount of their bills to avoid having their payments considered delinquent. He said AEL&P's policy on late and partial payments must be enforced, even if that means shutting off their power.

Willis denies any negligence on AEL&P's part and said hindsight is always 20/20, but that no one could have predicted avalanches of such magnitude, which experts reported was a once in every 100-300 year incident.

He also believes hydropower was restored quicker because AEL&P is privately-owned and didn't have to proceed through lengthy protocols to hire a contractor to repair the lines.