AELP – Capacity, Transparency and More

*** EDITED ***

In the first paragraph of our post yesterday, 3/11, which follows below, we were apparently a bit hasty in claiming that the Empire had not run this letter. At the time, it had not been published. Today, it sits in the editorial section of the paper. We apologize to our local paper, the Juneau Empire, for our hastiness. We have crossed out the appropriate wording.

On March 9, the Juneau Empire published a story detailing higher rates for Juneau’s electric utility over the upcoming months due to lower than normal precipitation. The letter below was submitted to the paper and not run. We feel that it provides important information that was not published, addressing addresses issues of Juneau’s current hydro capacity, utility planning and the public’s access to it (commonly called ‘integrated resource planning’) and the growing concern of many that as the world moves away from fossil fuels, our grids and the utilities that manage them, will need to change, grow and adapt.

AEL&P is short on power – but don’t tell anyone.

On Valentine’s Day, AEL&P filed a request with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) saying they won’t have enough power for interruptible customers this spring. They also asked the RCA to “waive public notice of this filing.”

Juneau is unique, having “interruptible customers” who have multiple power sources and do not depend solely on AEL&P for their power. During normal operation, those customers help balance out the system and lower rates for the rest of us. But right now, they mask how much we’re struggling with last year’s lack of rainfall.

AEL&P has argued for years that Juneau’s energy demand is decreasing and we don’t need new sources of power. But now the federal building, two public schools, and five UAS buildings are all using diesel instead of electricity for heat. In addition, Greens Creek mine is using diesel to generate its own electricity. Just to put that in perspective, the federal building burns 21,000 gallons of fuel per month for heat, while Greens Creek burns approximately 10,000 gallons per day. Costs and carbon emissions have gone up accordingly.

You might think that AEL&P is just being careful in case we have a drought like Ketchikan. But you should also wonder why AEL&P hasn’t developed some smaller renewable sources? Or agreed to buy power from Sweetheart Lake? Why do they continue to fight net metering? Why don’t we have wind turbines and storage like Kodiak? All good questions, but ones that we don’t have answers to because their planning process is proprietary. Our remote community depends on their monopoly but we don’t get to see the plans.

This is not normal. Most utilities have integrated resource planning built into their regular process. That gives the public the opportunity to read and comment upon plans. That is the industry standard across the country, and Avista does it with their customers down south. In the process of Hydro One’s failed attempt to buy Avista, AEL&P had promised that it would at least be more transparent with its planning process. While Hydro One is no longer in the picture, AEL&P could still honor the agreement it made with CBJ, as suggested in Margo Waring’s letter to the editor from February 11th.

Instead, CFO Brandon Cullum asked the Regulatory Commission to “waive public notice of this filing.” He cites the fact that the rates they’re requesting were calculated using previously approved methods.

The implications of this filing go far beyond this rate case. The public – including the CBJ and State agencies – needs to better understand the situation and how to plan for a renewable energy future. I hope the RCA will reject AEL&P’s request to waive public notice.

AEL&P shouldn’t be keeping us in the dark.

You can read AEL&P’s filing on the Regulatory Commission of Alaska’s website. The matter # is TA474-1 and the letter requesting to waive public comment is tracking # TR1900930.

Danielle Redmond is a Juneau resident and board member of Renewable Juneau.