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Questions remain about repairs to transmission line

Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Questions still remain one day after an avalanche that knocked out a Snettisham transmission line 40 miles south of Juneau, causing the city to rely on backup diesel generators for power.

"I know everybody wants to know how long and how much it's going to cost, so we're working hard to get the information we need to answer those questions," said Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. spokesman Scott Willis.

AEL&P, the sole electric power supplier in the capital, flew an engineer that specializes in transmission line design to Juneau from Anchorage on Tuesday, as well as a transmission line contractor.

Both firms worked with AEL&P on line repairs after last April's avalanche that damaged five towers, forcing the utility company to use backup diesel generators for a month and a half.

The specialists were briefed during a meeting with AEL&P representatives on Tuesday before heading to the avalanche site to survey the damage.

"What they'll do is they'll come back and sit down with us and together we will work out a plan for repair," Willis said. "Once we have a plan then we will be able to tell people, 'This is what we are going to do and this how long we think it will take.'"

Willis said the discussions would begin Tuesday afternoon and he hoped to have a working plan by late today, but said it could potentially take longer.

"One thing they are going to be considering is if there is something we can do temporarily to get the line back in service, even though it may not be our permanent fix, it's something that may get us back in service more quickly and that would be good for all of us," Willis said. "I'll know better by the end of (today) how things are looking for that plan."

A teleconference between AEL&P, federal, state and local officials to discuss the situation is scheduled for this afternoon.

The company needs two pieces of information before it can determine if, and by how much, rates may increase for its customers - first of which is the cost of diesel fuel. AEL&P was quoted about $2.25 per gallon of diesel for the first two weeks.

"Last year during the avalanche it varied, but it was as high as $4.13 a gallon," Willis said. "So it's much lower than it was last year."

The company must also determine how long the transmission lines may be down before knowing if it will file with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska for an emergency Cost of Power Adjustment, or COPA, to recoup the costs associated with using diesel.

A COPA filing would result in higher rates for consumers. Rates went up about 450 percent during last year's energy crisis.

"When these guys help us work out the plan, we'll have a better idea if it's going to be 10 days or 10 weeks," Willis said. "When we know how much fuel is and how long we expect the outage will be, then we can do the calculation to say ... what we think the emergency rate might be."

AEL&P's current plan is to put new rates into effect 30 days from the avalanche.

"If we put it in place earlier than that, ... some people wind up getting charged that high rate for energy they used before the avalanche and before they had a chance to conserve," Willis said.

About a mile and a half of the roughly 40-mile transition line leading from the Snettisham Hydroelectric Project to Juneau was damaged by multiple avalanches last April. The avalanches resulted in the destruction of three towers that cost more than $3 million to replace. The avalanche on Monday destroyed one of the same towers replaced in the spring.

Willis said he got a report from the avalanche specialists on Tuesday morning that said the other two towers affected last year do not appear to be in any immediate danger.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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For complete coverage of the Snettisham avalanches including tips on how to conserve energy, video reactions and links to local resources go online to juneauempire.com/powerline.



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