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SEAPA takes over Swan Lake: KPU turns over operations to SEAPA

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan Public Utilities turned over the controls of Swan Lake hydroelectric facility to the Southeast Alaska Power Association on July 1.

SEAPA provides hydropower to Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg, and owns the Tyee Lake and Swan Lake hydro facilities. There are transmission lines linking the two facilities to send power back and forth. KPU also operates other hydro power generating facilities in the Ketchikan area — Ketchikan Lakes, Silvis Lakes, Beaver Falls and Whitman Lake.

Until the transition, four KPU electric employees worked at the Swan Lake facility and SEAPA reimbursed the City of Ketchikan for its employees and operating costs at the facility.

Three of the KPU employees working at Swan Lake applied to work in a similar capacity under SEAPA and were hired. One KPU employees at Swan Lake elected to stay with KPU and was transferred to a position closer to town, according to Assistant City Manager Lacey Simpson.

SEAPA CEO Trey Acteson, said the transition has been discussed for years, describing it as a natural progression. For example, the Tyee Lake facility used to be operated by Thomas Bay Power Authority, a joint entity of Petersburg and Wrangell, before SEAPA took over operations in August 2014.

Electric Division Manager Andy Donato said the transition has been discussed since he started working at KPU about a decade ago.

Acteson said the transition increases efficiencies, ensuring a standard in training and quality control. For example, the two facilities were on different schedules and had different union contracts.

The formal transition began about a year ago at SEAPA board meetings with the drafting of transition documents.

"As the owner of the project," said Acteson, "if we're going to pay for those type of resources and services obviously it's nice to be able to control who's doing that — control the training and make sure that all the operations and maintenance procedures are first of all in place and being followed."

SEAPA is in the process of cross training employees so that they can cover at both Swan and Tyee. Acteson said four employees work at each facility and SEAPA hired an additional employee — a roving relief operator, to fill in at both places.

While the operations and maintenance were reimbursed by SEAPA, the KPU management team still spent time and resources overseeing the facility.

Jeremy Bynum PE, electric system engineering manager at KPU, said the reduction in the number of facilities overseen by the management team, "does give us a little more ability to focus solely, on KPU facilities."

However, Donato says the transition does not affect the level of involvement Ketchikan has in hydroelectric decisions.

"There's still the same ties in terms of collaboration and communication," said Donato. "The object of the game is to utilize SEAPA to fulfill the firm power requirements of this utility. And that's still a daily thing, still a daily conversation. By and large, as far as who's signing the checks is about the only difference."

In addition to owning and operating the Tyee and Swan Lake hydro facilities, SEAPA owns 14 miles of submarine cables and 175 miles of overhead transmission lines.

The joint-action agency provides about 60% of the total power consumed by all three member communities at a wholesale rate at less than seven cents per kilowatt hour. The state average is about 20 cents per kilowatt hour and the national average is just under 13 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

However, last fall SEAPA oversold the water out of Tyee Lake to Ketchikan, exacerbating energy concerns for member communities who started supplementing energy needs with diesel generation because of an elongated drought.

SEAPA has reimbursed the diesel generation costs of both Wrangell and Petersburg.

KPU has continuously operated diesel generators, augmenting hydroelectric generation since Sept. 18. Now, diesel generation supplies the city with one third of its energy needs. The Ketchikan City Council recently approved diesel generation funds to KPU to run through September.