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New road to help Kake's chances for hydropower

Posted: July 26, 2012 - 12:06am

Kake may get a road to its neighbor Petersburg, at a cost of $40 million, but the real benefit to the 557 residents of Kake may come from lower power rates.

Kake’s electric utility, Inside Passage Electric Co-op, wants to get the diesel-dependent city on Kupreanof Island onto hydropower.

“So many people have left town, but we’re hoping that with economic development people will come back,” she said.

One of the reasons they’ve been leaving, she said, is power rates of 60 cents a kilowatt-hour for unsubsidized and business customers.

To do that, IPEC General Manager Jodi Mitchell wants to connect Kake to the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, which provides hydropower to Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell.

That intertie would be too expensive to build or maintain without a road, she said.

“We do know that intertie equals road, one way or another there’s got to be a road,” she said.

The Department of Transportation is in charge of building the road now that the funding has been approved, which may be done in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration.

The road, for which the Legislature allocated the money last session, would run about 45 miles to connect Kake and Petersburg, which is already connected to the intertie.

It would likely follow logging roads for about half the way, according the department, though the route has yet to be decided.

A small shuttle ferry would connect the road to Mitkof Island, on which downtown Petersburg is located.

Transportation engineers are going to use the Environmental Impact Statement to decide between two likely routes, a northern and a southern one.

The southern route is more direct, but risks legal challenges because it would go through the Petersburg Creek-Duncan Salt Chuck Wilderness Area.

A legislative report says the northern route appears to make the most economic sense, and would also have the shortest channel crossing between the islands.

A separate but related EIS on the electric intertie is also underway, with both projects expected to use the same route, once it is chosen. That process is expected to take three years.

The eventual cost of power in Kake will be determined by how much the intertie costs, which will also depend on the route, Mitchell said.

“We are counting on a lot of state assistance,” she said.

Target price for power would be between 35 and 45 cents per kilowatt-hour, a substantial reduction but “still incredibly high,” Mitchell said.

Kake’s diesel generators will remain for backup or supplemental purposes.

The Legislature said the road would also improve transportation options for Kake. The Alaska Marine Highway serves both Kake and Petersburg, while Petersburg is also served by Alaska Airlines.

Transportation planners have also been seeking ways to simplify runs or reduce ferry costs, but Mike Neussl, deputy commissioner for marine operations, said the ferry system was years away from considering any changes.

Mitchell said she hoped the project would be done by 2015.

“I think that’s very optimistic, but that’s what we’re shooting for,” she said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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