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By ANDREW SHEELER
Daily News Staff Writer
An unusually dry winter has led Ketchikan Public Utilities to announce that, beginning Tuesday, it will run diesel generators to supplement the power provided by the Swan and Tyee Lake hydroelectric dams.
KPU?Electric Division chief Tim McConnell called it "the perfect storm:" Cold-weather-induced increased power usage coupled with record dry weather. McConnell said October was a record dry month, and November was "fairly dry" as well. The increased use comes "from both ends of the (Swan-Tyee) intertie," McConnell said. Because Wrangell and Petersburg also are using more power, there’s less of it available for Ketchikan residents to use.
"At current usage rate, Ketchikan has approximately two months of hydropower left in the reservoirs," according the a KPU statement released Friday.
In an effort to make that hydropower go further, McConnell said KPU decided to begin running diesel generators during the daytime. The generators will run eight hours a day, five days a week, for five weeks or until there are sufficient levels in the reservoir. That will generate a total of 2,000 megawatt hours of diesel energy,?McConnell said. He added that KPU will monitor lake levels and might continue to run the diesel generators longer if there isn’t enough rain. McConnell said the decision to run diesel now, while there’s still available hydropower, was to prevent a situation where the hydropower was gone and KPU?would be forced to run diesel around the clock.
The diesel use is projected to save approximately eight days of hydropower.
"Better to plan ahead and only run your diesels during the day," when it’s cheaper,?McConnell said.
The diesel use will lead to an increased electric cost, as KPU?charges a diesel surcharge.?McConnell was hesitant to say how much because of the possibility that diesel-use could be extended.
The charge "will be measurable but it won’t be excessive," McConnell said.
The diesel surcharge is spread out over a six-month period to prevent any one month from becoming onerous.
McConnell urged KPU?customers to conserve energy in the coming weeks by turning off unneeded lights and appliances, turning down the thermostats and resisting the urge to run heaters.
"And maybe put an extra sweater on," he said.