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Alaska utility expects higher-than-usual rates to continue

March 12, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Juneau-area residents will likely continue paying more than usual for electricity because of low water levels at an Alaska utility’s hydroelectric facility.

Dry conditions in southeast Alaska over the last year have caused the Alaska Electric Light & Power to temporarily increase rates, the Juneau Empire reported Saturday.

The utility’s main source of power is the Snettisham Hydroelectric Project.

The utility offsets power costs for customers by selling surplus energy to so-called interruptible customers — those with multiple heating systems. The utility can disconnect the interruptible customers when reservoir levels are low.

The utility has not been producing extra power to sell to interruptible customers, so average electricity customers are not getting credits. The utility in December announced a temporary rate increase of about $13.62 per month for average customers.

Customers will likely continue paying little more on every bill even after the rate change known as a cost of power adjustment expires at the end of March, said Deb Driscoll, the utility’s director of consumer affairs.

Snettisham has received about 79 inches (2 meters) of rainfall from October through February, instead of the typical 90 inches (2.3 meters), according to the utility. From October 2017 to October 2018, Snettisham received about 136 inches (3.5 meters) of rainfall. It usually gets about 172 inches (4.4 meters) of rainfall during this period.

“The system is designed so that in years with normal precipitation our interruptible customers share the cost of our system with our firm customers, reducing the cost burden to firm customers,” said Brandon Cullum, the utility’s chief financial officer. “In times with extended periods of below average precipitation — like the one we are in now — our system is dedicated to our firm customers.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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