Citing unusually dry weather and a forecast calling for more of the same, the Ketchikan City Council declared a public emergency Thursday and unanimously authorized the city’s electric utility to rent two more diesel generators.

Ketchikan Public Utilities rented two generators last fall to supplement its permanent backup diesel generators at Bailey Power Plant. An ongoing drought in southern Southeast Alaska means hydroelectric power has been limited, and now is pretty much off line.

City and KPU Manager Karl Amylon told the council Thursday that a Juneau-based meteorologist recently met with KPU and had bad news.

“Their latest projections for the next three to six months is warmer and drier than average,” he said.  

Amylon said the two additional diesel units will be critical for keeping the lights on in Ketchikan. And as long as the diesel is running, the diesel surcharge on customers’ bills will continue.

Amylon said KPU has been getting a lot of feedback from customers unhappy with their bills. He said it’s understandable, but this isn’t going to be over anytime soon.

“The one thing that we can tell them to mitigate those surcharges: Conservation is your best bet,” he said.

Mayor Bob Sivertsen noted that even with the diesel surcharge, Ketchikan still has one of the lowest power costs in the state.

Council Member Janalee Gage asked about the community’s general water supply. Amylon said for now that appears to be OK, but he’ll keep the council updated.

Also Thursday, the council voted to authorize Amylon to work toward permit regulation relief related to use of the diesel generators. He said the Department of Environmental Conservation likely will require the city to invest in filtering equipment.

That equipment hasn’t been needed in the past because the diesel generators were backup only, and not used long-term.

Amylon said the city can ask for permit relief through the congressional delegation and other officials. He recommends hiring a consultant to guide the city in that process.

Any contract will come back to the council for approval.

In other matters, the council deferred action on a proposal to move forward with removing the single-item tax cap on jewelry sales. We will have a more detailed report later on that part of the meeting.