A planned electric rate increase for Ketchikan Public Utilities customers will be postponed until after the ongoing diesel surcharge has been completed.

City Manager Karl Amylon recommended to the Ketchikan City Council on Thursday that the 3.5-percent rate increase, planned for April 1st, be put off. All the reasons for the rate hike still are valid, he said, but with the diesel surcharge going up again this month due to the ongoing drought, now is not the time.  

Amylon, who also is the KPU manager, said that while some rain is in the short-term forecast, it appears the city will need to burn diesel for a while.

“I know based on what we’re being told by NOAA, we are in for six months of extra-dry weather, so we could be into our diesel run very easily into next fall,” he said.  

Ketchikan Public Utilities generally relies on hydroelectricity, but the region has been in an ongoing drought, which means lakes that provide water for that hydropower are too low. When hydro isn’t available, the city relies on backup diesel generators, which cost significantly more.

Amylon said KPU is burning between 18,000 and 20,000 gallons of fuel a day. He said KPU employees are working hard to keep the generators online.

“Your operators and your mechanics are pulling yeoman’s duty keeping the lights on, and they deserve all the credit in the world,” he said.  

The council voted unanimously to postpone the electric rate increase until after the diesel surcharge has ended. KPU spreads surcharges over six months, so the extra fee will continue to appear on customers’ bills for six months after the utility has switched back to hydro.

There was some discussion of alternative energy. Licha Kelly-King spoke during public comment about her $700 electric bill. She said that bill inspired her to do some research.

“In a blind rage, in 15 minutes on a bad computer, I found a bunch of different things that may not work here, but at least it’s something to look at,” she said.  

Kelly-King suggested the city put together a task force to explore energy options. She said she knows a new energy source can’t be built immediately, but the city should start looking now.

Mayor Bob Sivertsen said the city is working with Southeast Alaska Power Agency. He said SEAPA is a better entity to build new energy projects, because it can draw on the resources of its three member communities.  

SEAPA owns two hydro dams and an intertie that connects them. Those dams serve Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell. All three communities are now burning diesel because of the ongoing drought.

Also Thursday, the council agreed to give Amylon a raise, bringing his annual salary to $220,000. That amount covers his two positions as the city and KPU manager.

Council Member Sam Bergeron said he is grateful for Amylon’s hard work. Bergeron said the city and utility are well-run and professional, thanks to the manager.

“I know there’s folks out there that don’t really understand the need for the compensation raise,” he said. “I can tell you that there’s no comparison for what he does anywhere. You were talking about what Juneau has – Juneau doesn’t have a telephone division. They don’t have a lot of the things that we have and he does them all.”

During the Feb. 21 meeting, the council amended the proposed raise to $205,300, but postponed a final vote at Amylon’s request. Following an executive session Thursday, the council again amended the motion to bring the raise back up to the original proposal of $220,000.

The vote was 5-2 with Dave Kiffer and Dick Coose voting no.