City Manager to AEL&P: Defend yourself

City holds public forum to clear the air about diesel plant

About 65 people attended a public forum Wednesday night to ask representatives from the Alaska Electric Light and Power Company about their plans to build a new back-up generation plant in the Mendenhall Valley.

 

Earlier this year, AEL&P announced its plan to build the $22 million diesel power plant. Then, at a Juneau Chamber of commerce luncheon in July, the company announced it would seek a rate increase of an undisclosed amount to cover the cost.

[AEL&P to seek rate increase for new plant]

Both announcements were met with complaints — and, in some cases, conspiracy theories. So in order to clear the air, City Manager Rorie Watt invited representatives from the power company to a public forum.

“I came up with this idea because I could see that there wasn’t enough good information and not enough discussion about this plant,” Watt told forum attendees shortly before he turned to AEL&P President Tim McLeod and said “defend yourself, and I mean that in a completely collegial friendly way.”

Several AEL&P vice presidents spoke during the forum, rehashing the same basic case the utility presented in support of building the plant at the July Chamber lunch. The plant, they say, will only be used for back-up power.

Fielding a question about the unsustainable nature of diesel power versus hydro power, Christy Yearous, VP of power generation, explained that 94 percent of the city’s hydro power is located far south of the Juneau road system.

That means that if something were to happen to power lines, say an avalanche were to take them out, it could be a while before AEL&P could return them to working order. Diesel back-up power allows the utility to provide power in the meantime, she said.

During the forum, AEL&P representatives denied that company would use the new diesel plant to supply power on a full-time basis to the Greens Creek Mine, as some people theorized.

Most forum goers seemed unsatisfied by the company’s refusal to answer how much rates might go up to cover the diesel plant. They were happy to hear McLeod say that AEL&P probably should’ve been more open about its plans for the project.

“We’ve been trying to achieve the same goals for 123 years doing it the way we’re doing it, so we didn’t ask for a public hearing, but we probably should’ve,” McLeod said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

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