My turn: Use facts in justifying actions of Juneau's electric utility

Posted: Tuesday, December 25, 2007

This letter is in response to the My Turn column by Tim McLeod on Nov 26. McLeod stated, "Juneau's firm loads have grown and our hydro projects are now at full capacity with average annual precipitation." Let's take a moment and ask one question. If we are at full hydro capacity in an average annual precipitation year, why would we sell any electricity to any other customers? The obvious answer is, "We wouldn't." End of subject, right? Wrong. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska Web site,, provides the following information:

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"By May '07 both Snettisham lakes had been drawn down much lower than normal," AEL&P reported. "By August 7, the lakes were clearly not filling as rapidly as we wanted."

Instead of letting the lakes fill, AEL&P sold electricity to Greens Creek Mine and Princess Cruise Lines and other nonfirm customers at a reduced rate from May through October. You might want to know that AEL&P was also using diesel (31,575 gallons) to generate electricity in the months of May, June and September.

In other words, AEL&P sold 25.3 million kilowatts of electricity at a reduced rate, instead of using the capacity of Snettisham to take care of Juneau. Juneau's energy demand would be about 16 million kilowatts less than last year without nonfirm customers.

Why did AEL&P sell electricity to nonfirm customers before there was any assurance it would be surplus? Their own report shows that in May, July and August, the lake levels were low.

McLeod can't blame the weather. I went to the NOAA Web site at and pulled up the 65-year average precipitation for Juneau. I compared it to this year's precipitation.

For the year, we are at 4.95 inches of precipitation above normal. In May the lakes were low, in July Crater Lake Tunnel was dewatered and by Aug. 7, the lakes weren't filling as rapidly as they wanted.

AEL&P had a lot of options. They could have informed the nonfirm customers that they were going to cut off the electricity until the lake level rose toward available surplus capacity. They could have gone into a rolling brown out situation for the nonfirm customer and let the lake levels rise slowly. Instead, they sold us down the penstock. AEL&P provided power to the point where we are on diesel generated power and we now get to pay an adjustment (penalty).

In McLeod's letter to the editor, he states that:

"In order to preserve hydro energy for Juneau's firm customers, GCM was disconnected in early August, the cruise ships were disconnected in September and all other interruptible loads were interrupted in October. These customers will remain disconnected until surplus hydro energy is made available by above normal precipitation or until construction of our new hydro project, Lake Dorothy, is completed."

The report to the RCA says, "The load was interrupted on September 12th (not August)." A copy of the GCM bill for September usage is provided. The cruise ships were disconnected on Sept. 29. The report also says one nonfirm customer stayed connected until Nov. 12, not October.

So, was it an oversight, or was it on purpose? By overproducing, AEL&P is the only winner. They get a profit for every kilowatt of electricity sold. It is a guaranteed 13 percent, according to the RCA. When you get 13 percent for selling a block of electricity, and get another 13 percent to regenerate (diesel) and sell the same amount, and pass on the cost of the extra fuel, then your profits rise. I haven't seen any documentation requiring AEL&P to show that they are being economical or even reasonable in the amount of dollars they spend or charge for maintenance. It is rolled into the cost of providing electricity.

The people who live in this service area typically have a strong sense of community. I don't think that sense of community is strong enough to overlook the possibility that the general residential consumer is paying a surcharge because AEL&P sold a nonexistent surplus to its nonfirm customers. If you are going to justify your company's actions, please use facts.

• Randy Sutak is a single father of three who works in construction during the summer and Web site design during the winter.

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