Low rain causes Ketchikan to rely on diesel power

IMG_0001Alex Malouf
Staff Writer

The City of Ketchikan is on continuous diesel generated power for the foreseeable future. Lack of summer rain produced low lake levels causing the city’s power plant to shut down hydroelectric power.
Stormy, wet days were a rare occurrence this summer. Many days had the potential to downpour, but instead clouds sprinkled some rain and dissipated. Local lakes need strings of rainy days in order to fill up and produce power for the city.
KPU Electric Division Manager Andy Donato said that diesel generators are currently supplying the majority of power to the city.
“Yes we have some hydro power,” said Donato. “But we’re augmenting the diesel with that hydro power. We do not have enough hydro power to meet the firm power requirement of Ketchikan.”
Ketchikan typically relies heavily on hydro power. 97% of all power comes from hydro power, while the other 3% comes from diesel generators. Off years requiring more diesel.
“Nothing is stopping us from going back and forth as we accumulate water,” he said. “As the reservoir level gets low, we go back to diesel.”
According to Donato, Swan Lake will need another 30-40 inches of rain in order to safely make the switch from diesel to continuous hydro power. When asked about the possibility of Swan Lake reaching its goal in the next few weeks, he said it would have to be “a biblical type of event” in order for that to take place.
Typically, diesel power is used in the spring. Lack of water on hillsides and frozen hillsides restrict the amount of water entering the reservoirs.
“Diesel power was needed last year in the spring,” he said. “We usually need extra power that time of the year, but to have this issue manifest itself in the summer and in the fall, that is very rare. Hopefully mother nature will turn around and produce the massive inflows we typically get.”
Donato predicts Ketchikan will continue to rely on diesel generated power as winter approaches, but he hopes the city can switch back to hydroelectric power for the holidays.
“As we get into December and January,” he said. “My suspicion is we will continue to be on diesel power.
Information regarding current lake reservoir levels can be found at www.ktn-ak.us the official City of Ketchikan website.

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