PETERSBURG, AK <p>Petersburg Municipal Power & Light superintendant Joe Nelson says Petersburg’s electricity demands have soared in recent years, especially during the winter months. He attributed the increased demand to many residential and commercial buildings switching from oil to electric heat. He expressed concern over a potential loss of hydro power from Lake Tyee, south of Wrangell.</p>
<p>“And should we lose the Tyee, the connection to Tyee because of the transmission line or problems over there, our poor little diesel plant wouldn’t hold it.”</p>
<p>The City of Petersburg approved the purchase of a new diesel generator recently, to increase back-up capacity. Nelson says the City needs to consider its options for future demand increases, saying conservation, alternative energy sources, and rate-restructuring are on the table. Nelson also noted there is no good estimate of how much more demand the current system can withstand.</p>
<p>Estimating that figure is one of the tasks the SEIRP working group hopes to accomplish. The working group’s presentation focused on alternative energy solutions, in particular wood pellets. Devany Plenovitch of the Alaska Energy Authority and Nathan Soboleff of Sealaska-owned Haa Aani, LLC both presented on using various wood derivatives, also called biomass, to meet Petersburg’s energy needs.
Soboleff says that in the short term, wood-pellets are an inexpensive alternative to diesel. </p>
<p> “Here in Petersburg the price of pellets in 40 pound bags is about $380 a ton and through bulk wood pellet deliveries, you could be looking at $300 a ton, which is $6 per 40 lb bag.”
At 380 dollars per ton, pellets would be the equivalent of oil at 3 dollars and 19 cents per gallon. The pellets are currently shipped in from the lower 48, but Soboleff is optimistic about the potential for local expansion.</p>
<p> “You could quickly get the level of demand such that the SE Alaska region could support its own wood-pellet producing facility on a large scale and bring with it a lot of jobs.”</p>
<p>The Sealaska Plaza in Juneau currently runs on a wood pellet boiler. The Tongass Discovery Center in Ketchikan and the Coast Guard Air Station in Sitka are in the process of converting.</p>
<p>Some local residents expressed concern over the meeting’s emphasis on biomass.</p>
<p>“I feel like we’re being railroaded down this biomass alternative, when there are plenty of alternatives that I would like to see in your draft analysis. I would like to see equal consideration given to all alternatives."</p>
<p>That was Becky Knight. She says biomass poses health hazards that she would like to see the committee address. During the meeting she quoted information from burning Resident Martha Smith says she is concerned about the carbon footprint of biomass.</p>
<p>“I think biomass heat production has been around for a long time. I lived in Spokane when they converted many many stoves to pellet stoves there, they started making Presto Logs, and subsequent to that were huge air quality issues and health issues. And I think we need to expand from looking just at our community to the state and global environment in terms of our carbon emissions.”</p>
<p>Hydro power was also discussed during the meeting. IRP Project Manager James Strandberg says the group will recommend several hydro projects for Southeast in its report, including Whitman Lake, south of Ketchikan. He says tidal options are under consideration, but doesn’t anticipate they will be among the recommended short-term solutions, citing a lack of available technology.
Wind, geothermal, and heat pumps were also mentioned in the meeting. Project coordinator Robert Venables says the use of new technologies is a local issue.</p>
<p>“Are you willing to assume the risk that comes along with R&D projects? That’s to a large degree a local decision that should come up through your community, through your elected mayor, council and then put forward to the State as those opportunities arise and say ‘yes, we want to be positioned for those.’ But all those opportunities will be identified in the plan.”</p>
<p>The working group expects to have a draft of the SEIRP out by November 8th. The document will present findings on the current usage of power resources and will make recommendations about how to meet future energy needs.</p>
<p>For more information about the plan, you can visit the Alaska Energy Authority’s website,</p>