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Ketchikan on 24/7 diesel power for the foreseeable future

A view of downtown Ketchikan, seen from the cruise ship Vaandam. (Photo by Leila Kheiry/KRBD)

While Friday’s rainfall will help a little, Ketchikan’s ongoing drought means the island’s electricity will continue to be 100-percent diesel generation for the foreseeable future.

During Thursday’s Ketchikan City Council meeting, City Manager Karl Amylon said that Ketchikan Public Utilities started switching back and forth between hydro and diesel a few weeks ago, but starting Oct. 15th, extremely low lake levels meant switching completely to diesel.

During the past few weeks, he said, a couple of the utility’s backup diesel generators malfunctioned, and one remains offline. Because of that and the persistently low lake levels, Amylon said KPU needs additional backup going into the colder months.

“I’ve made the decision, maybe out of an abundant sense of caution, that we really need to take the extra step,” he said. “I’ve authorized electric to move forward with the acquisition of two additional diesel-powered units that we’re going to rent.”

Amylon said a formal declaration of emergency will be brought to the council at its Nov. 1 meeting.

KPU Electric Division Manager Andy Donato told the council that the 2-megawatt generators should arrive in a couple of weeks, and then it will take about a week to hook them into the system. He expects KPU will rent them for four to six months.

Without those rental units, Donato said he’d be concerned about the possibility of rolling blackouts. There is an emergency plan in place if rolling blackouts are needed.

“We took all the feeders across, we have something like 14 feeders, and divide them in zones, number them, and locate all the various things: Communications, hospital, airport, schools. And then how that would be rotated if push came to shove,” he said.

Donato says the rented diesel generators will help reduce the risk of rolling blackouts, as well as more rain. He says that emergency measure would be required only during peak winter demand, which tends to be mornings and evenings.

Amylon, the city manager, said the city and KPU are actively promoting power conservation in the community.

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