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Rainfall relieves diesel generation: KPU to return 2 rental generators

Daily News Staff Writer

The fall weather this past week has been a mixed bag for Ketchikan.

Rainfall on Friday pushed the Ketchikan area ahead of the monthly normal for October, solidifying hydropower use.

Ketchikan Public Utilities plans to cut loose two leased diesel generators, saving the utility $60,000 monthly, and reducing the diesel surcharge.

"The object of the game is to try to get those (generators) out of here by the end of the month," said Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division Manager Andy Donato. "... They won't be on the November billing cycle."

As of Friday, Ketchikan was just a few inches shy of the normal year to date rainfall of 106 inches. This puts Ketchikan more than 25 inches ahead of last year's rainfall at the end of October.

Additionally, this month the U.S. Drought Monitor downgraded Southern Southeast Alaska's status from an extreme drought to a severe drought designation.

Ketchikan has been in a severe drought classification or worse since the end of September 2018. As a result, the city burned more than 2.8 million gallons of diesel from January to the end of August, passing some of the cost onto residents through a surcharge. Since the end of August, KPU has been operating almost entirely on hydropower.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Meteorologist Daniel Hartsock in Juneau said he would expect the drought classifications to soften as more rain falls.

However, overall the lake levels are still shy of the 10-year-average, according Donato. So, KPU isn't getting rid of all the rental generators yet.

"We're going to hang on to two of them," said Donato, "until we know better, what the winter lake levels going to look like."

"... We only got a month, month and a half here before, typically the weather turns cold enough that though what lands on the hillside stays there in the form of snow and ice and doesn't necessarily find its way into the lake," he said.

While the fall weather is bringing welcomed diesel relief, it made for an eventful week for KPU's short-handed lineman crew.

Donato said the utility is down four linemen, but he said he was pleased with how quickly it has responded to outages.

Winds gusted upwards of 45 miles per hour Wednesday in Ketchikan, resulting in two utility pole fires and subsequent power outages for more than 500 customers in the South Point Higgins area.

"With the high winds, sometimes branches can start at one location and go a considerable distance before they land on the line," said Donato.

"And then the other thing that we can't plan for, uh, there's been some small slides like the one at the Coast Guard (base) a couple of weeks ago where a lot of rain, the soil was loose, some wind and next thing you know, you get a small slide and as those trees topple down eventually come in contact with the line."