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Williams picked for Council seat: SEAPA says new project not likely

Daily New Staff Writer

The Ketchikan City Council convened in a special meeting Thursday night to fill a vacant seat and see a presentation from the Southeast Alaska Power Association.

Two city residents had applied for the council seat vacated by Julie Isom, whose last council meeting was May 2.

On Thursday, the two candidates — Spencer Strassburg, a local businessman associated with The Fox Hole; and former City of Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III — addressed the council concerning their interest in the seat.

Both candidates were complimentary of each other. However, Strassburg highlighted his difference in leadership style. He said working and talking with other businesses and seeing the effects of port developments and upland construction daily gives him a valuable insight to the community.

He also said the council could use him as a mouth piece of transparency.

"I'll keep on talking when the rest of you guys walk away at the grocery store," said Strassburg.

Williams said he was interested in helping with port expansion and to "make sure it's moving and is on its way." He said he was healthy enough to commit to the next four and a half months.

This council seat will be one of two that is up for election in October.

After the council voted 5-2 in favor of Williams, he sat down at the dais to hear SEAPA's presentation.

SEAPA CEO Trey Acteson and the Director of Engineering & Technical Services Robert Siedman presented on the joint action agency that oversees power sales to Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg.

The hour-long presentation provided an overview into the insight that goes into making power sales decisions and the viability of additional power generation projects.

SEAPA owns the Swan Lake and Tyee Lake hydroelectric facilities. Due to atypical dry weather and an oversell of energy from Tyee Lake to Ketchikan last fall, all three communities have had to rely on diesel generation to supplement their respective energy demands this winter.

As a result, the council questioned Acteson about what is being done to prevent this in the future, specifically in regard to new energy projects.

Acteson said that they haven't reached a "solid decision point to make a capital investment." He hypothetically estimated that investing in a new project might be upward of $100 million, which would raise rates by several cents for the next 40 years.

Mayor Bob Sivertsen said that when talking with other municipalities, he's heard people say, "If a community hasn't gotten to the point where they're burning some diesel once in a while, they're not ready to start building a larger project because it's not fair to the ratepayers."

As far as cost to the community, Siversten said investing in a $20 million diesel generator that the community needs as a back-up, anyway, would be cheaper in the form of diesel surcharges than a sustained rate increase from a large project.

Acteson added that seeing a large sustained increase in energy demand factors into the decision to construct a new project, but he said this hasn't been observed in this community.

When the council asked about smaller projects, Acteson said the technology isn't there yet, but that they are actively engaged with exploring opportunities for when it is cost effective.

"We're getting as well prepared as we can," said Acteson, "for when that time comes up."