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Rural power providers back more help for struggling ratepayers

Posted: February 15, 2012 - 1:04am

House bill would increase energy levelizer by $33 million

“Energy is a quality of life issue,” said Jodi Mitchell, CEO and GM of the Inside Passage Electric Cooperative. “[IPEC Customers] really do have to juggle whether they’re able to buy food or pay their bills.”

Energy rates vary throughout Southeast Alaska from community to community along the close-knit, but geologically isolated Archipelago. Electricity prices jump from nine cents per kWh to 60 cents per kWh in some areas.

Mitchell said that for her customers, despite the high cost of energy, power cost equalization displaces less than 20 percent of most household electrical costs.

A bill introduced this year by Rep. Bryce Edgmon R-Dillingham, House Bill 294 (bit.ly/wHNSlw), would increase the monthly amount of electricity eligible for rebate by the program from 500 kilowatts to 700kw.

The increased operation expenditures is estimated to cost the state $33 million per year out to FY18, according to the bill’s fiscal note, prepared by the Alaska Energy Authority.

In testimony before the House Special Committee on Energy, Mitchell strongly encouraged committee member support.

She compared the dozen or so lights overhead in the Capitol Building’s well-lit Butrovich Room 124 to the one or two bulbs in many rural homes.

She said she hopes the bill, if passed, would help stem the out-migration of Southeast’s population.

Henrich Kadake, Mayor of Kake, said he supported the bill “whole-heartedly.”

He said he believes easing the cost of power in his community will reverse a decade-long out-migration that has seen the community’s population drop from 900 to 510.

He says the community tries to create jobs but energy costs take all the resources.

Many of Kake’s residents are on fixed incomes, he said. “Retired, teachers … there are only a few jobs in Kake,” Kadake said. “We can not afford to keep our houses warm.”

The final status of the bill was not known at press time. For more information visit bit.ly/wHNSlw.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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