Empire editorial: Juneau can work together to tackle the energy crisis

Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2008

Juneau faces a daunting challenge in the months ahead as the cost of elec-tricity skyrockets nearly 500 percent in the wake of Wednesday's avalanche that cut Alaska's capital off from its main power source.

Alaska Electric Light & Power estimates the Snettisham hydroelectric project will be out of commission and the city powered by diesel for three months. In the meantime, the power company is burning through $1 million every three days just to buy the fuel needed to keep the city running.

We're all experiencing a high level of anxiety as we're trying to figure out how to pay for electricity in the months ahead. But we shouldn't panic. Instead, we need to work together as a community to find solutions to this crisis.

There are encouraging signs that this is already happening. In the days after the avalanche, the mayor asked the Juneau Economic Development Council to form a task force to look at ways to mitigate the negative effects of the spike in electricity prices. Members from such diverse groups and institutions as the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Red Cross, True North Credit Union and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council joined together to brainstorm solutions on Friday.

Some members on the task force have been on opposite sides of issues in the past, but everyone was focused on the problem at hand. After identifying the scope of the problem, the group, led by Brian Holst of the JEDC, went about identifying those who will be most affected. All of us will feel the pain in one way or another, but Juneau's elderly on fixed incomes as well as single-parent and low-income families are the most vulnerable.

The group decided there were two ways to deal with the crisis. One is through financial solutions such as offering special payment plans and pooling resources, and the other is through community outreach, which includes educating the public on safety and conserving electricity. The task force broke into two smaller groups that will meet next week to brainstorm specific solutions.

Though the next few months will undoubtedly be difficult, it's encouraging to see members of the community strategizing together.

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