AEL&P announced Monday that electricity bills are going up starting in January due to low rainfall this year. Residential customers can expect an average increase of $13.62 per month.
The company normally provides renewable hydropower energy to Juneau, relying on multiple lakes and reservoirs around the city. Director of Consumer Affairs Debbie Driscoll said we didn’t get enough rain this summer and fall to ensure a surplus of hydropower energy.
For more than ten years, AEL&P has had contracts with what they call “interruptible” customers like Greens Creek Mine and the Princess Cruise lines.
“We entered into agreements with them to purchase electricity when surplus water is available,” said Driscoll. “If we didn’t have interruptible customers to buy surplus energy, that energy would often just spill … lost water.”
The revenue gained from the interruptible contracts actually worked like a discount for “firm” customers, like residents and commercial businesses in Juneau. Over the last five years, those contracts offset an average resident’s energy bill by about $30 a month. Driscoll emphasized that there’s not going to be any increase to the actual energy usage rate, but firm customers won’t be getting that discount anymore.
Given the low level of rainfall this year, AEL&P determined that there would not be enough water to produce that surplus in hydropower energy.
“This is unusual,” Driscoll said. “In the fall, about September and October, we normally get a tremendous amount of rainfall, and that’s when we see our lakes just top off. They just fill. That’s what we normally see every year, so this was definitely not typical for this area.”
Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said this year’s precipitation levels fall within typical variability, and isn’t necessarily a result of climate change. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions from it,” he said over the phone.
AEL&P says the price hike is a temporary change — as long as rainfall returns to normal levels, they’ll resume selling surplus energy, which will once again lower regular customers’ energy bills.