Boaters upset about flat electric rate

Posted: Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Louie Pusich swears that he will use "every ounce" of electricity this winter since Juneau will start charging all boaters a flat electrical rate July 1.

"It's a rip-off. The city wants to make money off me," said Pusich, a 68-year-old sport fisherman. "My boat is going to have a very warm summer."

Another fisherman vowed to stick six heaters in his boat.

Since the city Docks and Harbors Board decided last January to impose a flat electrical rate on all boaters, officials have been busy explaining to boaters why the board made the decision.

"Unmetered power allows us a means to collect revenues for replacing the electrical system in old Douglas, the pedestals and wire in Aurora and the ongoing maintenance of all the harbors," said John Stone, the city's port director.

Stone said the state used to be responsible for maintaining all the docks and harbors. But about a year ago, the state got out of the harbor business and returned harbors to local governments.

Although Juneau's Docks and Harbors Department received $7 million from the state and $2.5 million in local property taxes for harbor improvements, upgrading all the harbors in Juneau will cost $25 million. Therefore, the board decided to change the metering system and have all the electrical users in the harbor contribute to these improvements.

"In the past, the true cost of harbor service wasn't reflected in people's bills," Stone said. "In the future, our rates will reflect not only operating but also rebuilding the harbors."

Right now, 75 percent of boaters are operating on a metered electrical system through Alaska Electric Light and Power while 25 percent are using an unmetered system administered through the city Docks and Harbors department.

To make the rates more equitable, summer and winter rates are different. So are the rates for live-aboard and non-live-aboard boats.

The summer monthly rate for a live-aboard is $50 for boats drawing 20 amps and $65 for 30 amps; the summer monthly rate for a non-live-aboard is $30 for 20 amps and $35 for 30 amps. The winter monthly rate for a live-aboard is $85 for 20 amps and $130 for 30 amps; the winter monthly rate for a non-live-aboard is $55 for 20 amps and $75 for 30 amps.

Under the new system, boaters don't have to pay if they don't plug in.

The new rates will be applied on current unmetered users and boaters with new stalls at Douglas Harbor starting July 1. It will be applied in phases on boaters at other harbors as the city installs new pedestals. Aurora Basin Harbor will have the new rate this fall, Harris Harbor next spring and Old Douglas sometime in 2006.

The board said at a May 17 Finance Committee meeting that it will review the new electrical rates this fall to see whether any adjustment is necessary.

Some boaters, especially fishermen, think the summer rate is too high.

David Gibson, a commercial fisherman, pays $8.50 in the summer just to charge his battery. He will have to pay $30 under the new system.

"The summer rate is a little expensive but the winter is not that bad," Gibson, 28, said. "I used to save as much electricity as possible. Now I will definitely keep my heater going in the winter,"

The Docks and Harbors Board and officials are aware of the drawbacks of imposing a flat electrical rate on all users.

"The elimination of metering at each stall means that boaters are less likely to conserve power," Stone said. "We examined the electrical consumption of boaters currently operating with non-metered pedestals on a flat rate to the boaters with AEL&P accounts and it appears that non-metered boaters use more power than their metered counterparts."

Although most people are upset about the change and say they will turn on their heaters at full blast, some boaters, such as Jeff Swill, are understanding.

"The harbors need some upgrades," said Swill, who has helped maintain his mother's boat at Aurora Basin Harbor for the past 20 years. "Where is the money going to come from if nobody wants to pay for it?"

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