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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

An Open Letter to SitNews Readers: Whitman Lake Hydroelectric  - Proposition 2
By Lew Williams
On Behalf of the Ketchikan City Council


September 21, 2011

On October 4th, 2011, Proposition 2 will ask voters to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, regarding authorizing the City to issue up to $15 million dollars in bonds to finance construction of a new hydroelectric facility.  The Ketchikan City Council recommends a ‘Yes’ vote. 

Over the next two weeks the City will be publishing a series of newspaper articles discussing the Whitman Lake Hydroelectric bond proposition.  However, you should also know that the complete series of articles is compiled and available for viewing on-line at

The purpose of this letter is to highlight the primary reasons the Whitman project is necessary, and why Whitman is the best possible solution to meeting Ketchikan’s increasing demand for electricity in the near and midterm.

Relative to access to a clean, efficient, and affordable source of electricity, Ketchikan may be the most fortunate city in the United States.  Situated in mountainous rainforest we are in close proximity to areas that lend themselves to development of clean and affordable hydroelectricity. 

In fact, our city’s first dam was constructed at Ketchikan Lakes in 1903. As the town’s demand for electricity grew, the city built new hydro dams in 1947, 1975, and 1984 (at Beaver Falls, Silvis, and Swan Lake, respectively). And most recently, by connecting Swan Lake with Lake Tyee, we’ve ensured a supplemental supply of additional hydro power via load-sharing agreements with SEAPA.

Today, the investment in those projects ensures Ketchikan enjoys electricity at some of the lowest prices in the country.

However, our very affordable electricity also ensures an ever growing demand for electricity. Presently Ketchikan’s average annual growth in electric-demand averages 3 – 5%. By 2015 projections are such that we may be near capacity, and (lacking Whitman) may have to increasingly rely upon supplemental very expensive diesel power.

Fortunately, in 1997, KPU Electric recognized the inevitability of the requirement for an additional hydroelectric facility.  Thus began a 14 year planning and engineering effort necessary to secure the state and federal permits required for construction of the Whitman hydroelectric facility.  After many years of effort, the project’s last and most critical license was issued in 2011. Following 14 years of effort, the final item required to proceed with construction is your ‘Yes’ vote on Proposition 2, on October 4th, 2011.

The various articles (and an overview presentation) on the City website contain excellent detail.  However, I would like to point out some of the more compelling reasons why Whitman is necessary, and why we need to proceed at this time:

• Our FERC license requires that construction must commence no later than February 2013---or we must forfeit the license. Loss of this license and associated permits would most likely mean a minimum 10 year delay.

• The timing of this project is in concert with historic low interest rates. This is the best possible time to ensure the very lowest possible borrowing costs.

• The State of Alaska has committed approximately $11 million dollars to the Whitman project.  Should Ketchikan fail to proceed with Whitman, the possibility of obtaining similar support in the future is doubtful.

• Not only is Whitman necessary to meet Ketchikan’s midterm energy needs, Whitman is shovel-ready.  In fact, Whitman is one of the only new and fully permitted hydro projects in the United States.

In summary, your ‘Yes’ vote ensures Ketchikan will take advantage of a once in a generation opportunity to take advantage of low-cost financing, State funding, and approved State and Federal permits---just in time to meet the community’s growing demand for additional electricity.

Over 100 years ago, the citizens of Ketchikan recognized the city could not grow without affordable reliable energy.  In their time, citizens approved construction of hydro projects at Ketchikan Lakes, Beaver Falls, Silvis, and Swan Lake.  In our time, Whitman Lake is the next logical and vitally necessary investment in Ketchikan’s energy future.

And, just as it was for the town’s citizens in 1903, 1947, 1975, and 1984, this issue is yours to decide.  It’s your utility, your community, and your future.

On behalf of the City Council I encourage SitNews readers to read the Whitman Lake information at and to vote ‘Yes’ on Proposition 2 on October 4th, 2011.

Very truly yours,

Lew Williams
Ketchikan, AK

Received September 21, 2011 - Published September 21, 2011


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