SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Conservation Is the Answer to Our Short Term
Hydro Energy Needs
By Samuel Bergeron


February 27, 2012
Monday PM

The Ketchikan City Council is considering the problem of dwindling electric hydro-electric capacity; a problem largely driven by the use of electric heat. Some of their proposed solutions are troubling to me as it will penalize residents who rely in part or in whole for electricity for their heating needs.

The capacity or lack thereof, of hydro-electrical power generation is a recent and new phenomenon. This was brought about by the unexpected conversions from oil to less expensive electric heat. I myself converted to electric heat five years ago, previous to the inter-tie completion and back when oil heat was still a less expensive option than electricity and my oil fired furnace completely bit the dust. The thought back then was we would have surplus power after the Swan-Tyee electrical inter-tie was complete and no one at that time thought we would have a capacity issue. It was a decision based on my concern for dwindling fossil fuels versus clean, environmentally friendly hydro electricity, not so much what the economics were. Since that time oil prices have risen dramatically and our electrical rates have remained low; hence the strong predilection for electric heat. It s an economics based decision for homeowners to in part or in whole heat with electricity.

The Council has been apprised of the alarming increase in demand for electricity. We are at or near capacity and may have to rely in part on very expensive diesel generation during peak demand times. The recommendation from KPU staff and consultants is to raise the rates to spur conservation. I think the net result of increased rates will be the increase of our budget reserves and less money the ratepayers pocketbook. Expensive heating conversions from electric to oil, woody biomass or heat pumps are not brought about by punitive rates, but by incentives to change behaviors and providing alternatives beyond the threat of increasing your cost to an essential need like electricity.

That's why I will be bringing an agenda item forward to hire a consultant to come up with ideas to spur conservation and to incentivize heating conversions away from electric heat and to lower electric demand across the board. Conservation is far and away the less expensive option to building and connecting to new hydro-power sources. We can no longer continue to use electricity as an infinite recourse just because it is price structure is low in comparison to heating oil. See energy cost link:

We need to use our extensive recourses to solve this problem with ideas that don t include punitive electrical rates until after we offer a financial alternative that gives homeowners and ratepayers a way to get away from electric heat. Offering low or zero interest loans for heating conversions and home conservation measures thus lessening electrical demand is but one example of what could be done. This conservation approach is far less expensive than building new power generation sources and passing those capital costs along to our rate payers. In the conservation approach everyone wins with continued low affordable electric rates, lower energy costs and more disposable income. The City, Borough and State need to be in the forefront of this effort and set the example by employing conservation measures themselves and not exacerbating an already difficult situation by converting their buildings to electric heat and using outdated, expensive and wasteful technologies. Some of the conservation concepts that will be on the table will be district heating plants, fueled by clean burning, wood pellet biomass boilers, Just like the one Sealaska used in their building in Juneau. We are looking at central locations to heat a number of buildings with one boiler. KPU/Electric needs to become KPU/power; with multiple modes of affordable energy generation that meets the needs of its owners .

Building hydro-electric dams to meet our immediate energy needs is not an option; they take about 10-12 years or more to from concept to electrical production. Don t think for a moment we don t favor building out our hydro resources; we do, but we need to address the shortfall of affordable electricity we are facing now. Conservation and alternate energy sources are the answer in the near term. Stay tuned, changes are coming.

Samuel Bergeron (
samuelbergeron [at]
Ketchikan, AK

About: "I'm a life-long Alaskan and concerned citizen and a fiscal conservative. I've served on the City Council, Borough Assembly and KIC Tribal as Council President and as a Council Member. I currently hold a seat on the Planning Commission and the Ketchikan City Council. I m the weatherization manager for KIC; we weatherize everyone, not just KIC members. If you rent or own, do KPU and your bank account a big favor and get your KIC weatherization application in now. "

Received February 26, 2012 - Published February 27, 2012


Editor's Note:

According to Jason Custer, Chairman of the Mahoney Lake Hydroelectric Development Consortium, Whitman Lake and Mahoney Lake have both received their FERC licenses.  Mahoney Lake could be constructed and operational within two years of funding for construction becoming available.  Whitman Lake, even sooner, as funding has already been approved.



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