Protesters call for boycott of rate hike

Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2008

The mood on the Capitol steps Friday was rowdy as a handful of protesters screamed for financial help from the governor's office and encouraged the 200 citizens gathered to boycott a 41-cent hike in electric rates.

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David Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David Sheakley / Juneau Empire

Bullhorn in hand, Bill Burk called out to a distant governor, "We want disaster relief; we want it now," as a nearby sign read, "Governor Palin our children are cold. Are yours?"

Standing in the street, Albert Petrarca bellowed out his response to the financial crisis brought about by the avalanches that disconnected Juneau from its hydropower.

"Don't pay," he said. "No corporate welfare for the Corbus family."

Watching from across the street, Bill Corbus, Alaska Electric Light & Power Co.'s largest individual shareholder, heard the crowd cheer as Burk said the fault for the disaster rested entirely with the electric company.

"Practice consumer civil disobedience," Burk said.

A group calling itself The Juneau Peoples Power Project organized the week-ending rally so that people affected by the looming 447 percent rate hike could have an open, uninterrupted voice.

"I didn't think it would get so big," said project leader and rally instigator Ashley Richardson. There is a group of people affected by disaster pricing on electricity in Juneau, she said. Richardson was referring to the middle class, which is expected to receive no help from state or local governments.

Though household income disqualifies Richardson from assistance, she said her family - with three loans out already - lives check to check and cannot afford the rake hike any more than those living in poverty.

"No one is going to help us," she said. "I have to choose between heating my house or feeding my 1½-year-old."

Richardson said she'd follow the rally by working to oust the governor, for the lack of a state response, and several members of the Juneau Assembly for their response to the disaster.

Richardson believes Juneau residents and small businesses should not have to pay for AEL&P's "mistake." Not protecting the Snettisham transmission line or having saved for the eventual disaster is the mistake, Richardson said.

"We shouldn't have to pay to help them out," Burk shouted.

It certainly shows how the public feels, said Scott Willis, AEL&P's generation engineer. Willis stood next to Corbus watching the event and talking with those who approached.

With respect for the public voice, Willis said if a customer pays only 11 cents per kilowatt-hour used, as suggested during the rally, the unpaid 41 cents will simply transfer to the next bill.

Standing in the crowd, Aaron Brakel listened to the public expression of distrust and anger over the coming rate hike.

"I'm not anti-AEL&P," Brakel said. "They didn't protect the lines, but they are a good company."

The Douglas resident welcomed talk about middle class ratepayers and the trouble they face. Brakel said he would make it, but was concerned about others.

"There are definitely people and businesses in trouble, and I'm concerned about them," Brakel said.

Willis said nonpayment would cause problems for others who pay their share of the overall diesel bill for the whole community.

"We're just charging for the diesel," Willis said. "None of it is profit."

Willis said customers facing problems paying their bill, at any income level, should talk with AEL&P.

"We'll work it out," Willis said.

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