In some quarters of state, sympathy for Juneau lacking

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

While Juneau struggles with high power prices, not everyone in Alaska is sympathetic.

"As much as I feel Juneau's pain, Juneau residents need to understand that there are thousands of us rural Alaskans who would love to pay only 50 cents per kilowatt for electricity," wrote Dan Klaes, mayor of Bettles, in an opinion piece in the state's largest newspapers.

Residents of Bettles, a city of 25 located 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle, would save almost 30 cents per kilowatt-hour if its power rates were as low as Juneau's.

Klaes said Juneau residents are now facing the same fuel and electricity crisis as other parts of rural Alaska.

"Like Juneau, rural Alaska has an immediate energy crisis," Klaes wrote. "Unlike the Juneau crisis, however, ours has been going on for years and is not going to be over in a short period of months."

Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said she was disappointed by Klaes' and others' comments, including some of the e-mails she's received.

"I think overall Alaskans want to see us survive," she said. "There may have been a few who have been a little bitter. It seems to bring out some anger in people."

Kerttula said Juneau is asking for state help while the city has been cut off from the Snettisham hydroelectric project and is powered by expensive diesel backup generators.

Gov. Sarah Palin's Disaster Policy Cabinet is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider a disaster declaration, a first step in getting some types of state and federal aid.

Kerttula said she hopes people from rural Alaska will support Juneau in its time of need, as Juneau's legislators have done for them in the past.

"We stand up for our rural communities," she said. "We've been there fighting for them every single session."

Juneau's delegation has supported Power Cost Equalization, a state-funded program that lowers residential and governmental power rates in rural communities powered by diesel generators. Commercial properties are not eligible for PCE.

According to the Alaska Energy Authority, which manages the PCE program, last year Bettles' power rates were reduced by 34 cents per kilowatt-hour to 28.6 cents per kWh. Juneau's residential power rates will go to 56 cents per kWh (including taxes) on Thursday, after a rate increase approved by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska last week.

Alaska Energy Authority data shows that Bettles' power customers were subsidized $1,528 each last year. In Juneau that amount of subsidization would bring in $22 million, about how much the power crisis is expected to cost the community.

Kerttula said she did not want to risk hurting already hard-pressed rural communities elsewhere in Alaska, but warned that their rates would likely to go up next year because of what is happening in Juneau.

State law not only specifically exempts Juneau from PCE, but it bases the rates other communities pay on an average of the rates paid in Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks. Juneau makes up 17 percent of that average.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a delegation that's stood up for our neighbors in rural communities more than Juneau's (delegation)," Kerttula said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail

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