City shaves some electricity expenses

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2008

As the city faces the possibility of spending its entire yearly electricity budget within 90 days, an effort is underway to chip away at the expense caused by emergency power rates of more than 50 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Various departments expect a variety of changes including shutting off the airport's escalator, closing the Mendenhall and downtown libraries one day per week, and lowering the temperature in the 40,000-square-foot Centennial Hall by eight degrees to save money.

City Manager Rod Swope said he estimates energy savings measures now in place and on the way will reduce the expected $2.5 million increase in fees for three-months of power by $250,000. Last week, Swope directed city department heads to reduce electricity costs within city operations and present numbers and actions at a meeting Wednesday.

"I'm happy," he said.

City Finance Director Craig Duncan estimated the city consumed 22.3 million kilowatt-hours annually before the price hikes caused by a series of avalanches wiped out the Snettisham transmission line bringing hydropower to Juneau.

New shutdowns and operational refinements come on top of new standards of disciplined light use, heating levels and office equipment operation. The city says it costs 50 cents per day to operate a personal computer.

Fire Chief Eric Mohrmann said his department can save about $16,000 over the time period and is looking to shut down administrative offices on Friday to further conserve. Docks and harbors can reduce expenses for electricity they have direct control over by about $3,000 per month. Much of the energy consumed in harbors throughout the city is paid for on a flat fee no matter how much is consumed.

"Our big problem is electricity we don't control," Port Director John Stone said.

The Augustus Brown Swimming Pool sauna will oust its 300 daily users and shutdown to save another $720 per month, but the pool will stay 86 degrees.

Public Works Manager Joe Buck is tweaking the Mendenhall Sewage Treatment Plant, the city's biggest electric consumer, to reduce use by 20 percent. Buck figures he can save more than $15,000 per month by running a tighter ship.

Citizens can join the effort in reducing cost to the city and eventually their own wallets. Special Projects Manager Maria Gladziszewski said new power rates raise the cost of water going into homes and then passing through the city treatment facilities from 13 cents for 300 gallons to $1.20.

Buck said the more the community reduces water use during the crisis the cheaper water rates will be in the future.

"It (conservation) will lower future rate increases," Buck said.

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