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Public comments in AEL&P hearing favor rate increase

Posted: May 11, 2011 - 6:49am
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Jim Clark speaks in favor of AEL&P’s requested across-the-board raise in energy and demand charges during the public comment period at the Regulatory Commission of Alaska hearing Tuesday in the Assembly Chambers.

Juneau residents who appeared before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska during a public comment session all favored Alaska Electric Light & Power’s proposed rate increase.

Five locals showed up early Tuesday morning to make their voices heard.

RCA is holding hearings throughout the week to evaluate AEL&P’s request of a permanent 22 percent rate increase in energy charge components. A large part of the proceedings will examine the hydroelectric project at Lake Dorothy. Those that spoke in the hearings’ only scheduled public input session defended the utility’s practices and use of hydroelectric power.

Rick Shattuck, an insurance broker who works with AEL&P, spoke in favor of the company, saying he has found it to be a highly ethical company. He said that even with an increase, Juneau’s power rates would still be competitive with those in the state and at national levels. He also said the rates would still be better than those under diesel power, referring to AEL&P’s use of hydro power.

Next was Cathie Roemmich, chief executive officer for the Juneau Chamber of Commerce. She described how utility rates have been able to stay relatively low in Juneau compared to other areas that have seen rising electricity costs during the last 15 years. She credited this to the utility’s work and spoke admirably of its efforts, even in bad weather.
Roemmich added that Juneau also has a utility advantage in that because of its hydro capabilities, it doesn’t face as big of a threat from high oil prices as other places. She said her work through the Chamber has even allowed her to visit Lake Dorothy.

Shattuck and Roemmich also stated that Juneau People’s Power Project does not represent them.
Another speaker was James Clark, who directly said he’s in favor of the rate increase, particularly for the message it sends for hydro development.

Clark said the increase will encourage more hydro facilities and there are many communities looking at such possibilities. He said this is especially beneficial to rural areas, which can pay more than 60 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“In Southeast, one of the things we can do is build hydro facilities,” said Clark.
He said this encouragement is particularly needed for private sector investors, as he doubts state grants will continue for such projects and so private development is needed.

He said the increase sends a message to private developers that they will be able to recover their costs.

He added that, as with any rate increase, AEL&P must make sure the amount is fair.

In July, 2010, RCA granted AEL&P and interim rate increase of 20 percent on energy and demand charges, which works out to about an 18 percent overal rate increase. That means a residential customer now pays 11.56 cents per kilowatt hour for power from November to May (peak) and 9.5 cents per kWh from June to October (off-peak), up from 9.63 and 7.92 cents per kWh, respectively, according to information found on AEL&P’s website. If AEL&P receives the permanent rate increase it has requested, rates would rise again to 11.94 cents per kWH during peak months and 9.82 cents per kWh in off-peak times.  

Dan Lesh, an energy coordinator with Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, also feels the rate increase could be a good way to encourage productivity from the long-term perspective. He said hydro power is something SEACC has been trying to encourage.

Another citizen, Fred Morino, said he feels the rate increase is justified and that, while hydro projects are expensive, a 2 cents per kilowatt-hour increase sounds reasonable. He added he feels AEL&P has done a fantastic job in Southeast Alaska.

The RCA went into the scheduled hearing following the comments.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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