AEL&P's Lake Dorothy hydroelectric plant, pictured during summer construction, is expected to increase Juneau's available energy by 20 percent. The project is slated to come online in October 2009. Unlike past years, AEL&P officials expect to make it through the upcoming winter without turning to costly backup diesel power, which has led to higher winter utility rates in the past. AEL&P Vice President Scott Willis said lake levels are high and Juneau is using about 8 percent less power compared to the same time period in 2007.
Story last updated at 12/10/2008 - 11:29 am
JUNEAU - Alaska Electric Light and Power predicts that enough hydropower will be generated this winter to meet the city's electric needs without resorting to the more costly backup diesel-generated power.
Juneau residents have also been using less electricity this year than in past years, following in the aftermath of the April 16 avalanches that took out transmission lines leading from AEL&P's Lake Snettisham hydro plant.
Since the end of July, Juneau's electric usage has consistently been about 8 percent below last year's usage, according to AEL&P Vice President Scott Willis.
"Even last week, as I was looking at the level, it was about 8 percent," he said.
It depends on the weather, of course, he added. The difference will be less on colder days and more on warmer days.
Usage dropped as much as 30percent after the avalanches when backup diesel power cost 52 cents a kilowatt-hour. After hydropower was restored, electric use gradually increased until the end of July, when it stabilized at the current level of 8 percent below last year.
Willis said AEL&P doesn't know exactly where the difference is coming from, but he guesses it is a combination between hardware conservation, like replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescents, and behavioral conservation - like turning off those lights every time you leave a room.
"People may have found things that they could turn off or do without," Willis said. "There seems to be that much permanent conservation."
When oil prices skyrocketed this summer, AEL&P expected electric use to rise as people switched to more inexpensive heating sources. Now that oil is down to just under $40 a barrel, it doesn't look like the cost will cause many people to switch to electric heating this winter.
"This summer when oil prices were high I expected there would be a lot of fuel shifting," Willis said. "(Now) I don't expect that we'll see the kinds of fuel shifting that we expected (then). People that are heating with oil will continue heating with oil."
In addition to a slightly decreased demand for electricity in the Capital City, things also look good on the supply side. Willis said the lakes at Snettisham are at the highest levels they've been at this time of year in five years.
"The lakes are much higher than they were last year at this time," he said. "We had a wet summer and fall. There's a lot of water in the lakes."
All this adds up to good news for Juneau. According to AEL&P's models, we shouldn't need any costly diesel to make it through the winter.
AEL&P has hired avalanche specialist Bill Glude to monitor avalanche potential along the Snettisham transmission route. Every morning he reports the risk to AEL&P. If avalanche danger reaches a critical point, Glude will take a helicopter up and drop dynamite in the chute to create a small harmless avalanche that breaks up the potential for a larger slide. Willis said Glude has gone on two such missions since early November.
The Lake Dorothy hydropower plant, which has been under construction in the Taku Inlet southeast of Juneau since 2006, is slated to come online by October 2009. The Lake Dorothy plant is expected to increase the hydroelectric energy available to Juneau by 20 percent.
"Things are going well out there," Willis said. "That will be a nice addition to our power system as it comes online."