The operations of a hydro electric power plant in central Southeast Alaska changed hands quietly this month.
Six employees at the Tyee Lake hydro electric plant on the mainland near Wrangell worked for the Thomas Bay Power Authority until August 15th. The following day they were six new employees of the Ketchikan based Southeast Alaska Power Agency.
Tyee Lake is one of the two plants owned by SEAPA and it provides electricity to Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan. Until this month it was operated by Thomas Bay, a joint organization formed by Petersburg and Wrangell. The transfer has been under discussion for roughly two years.
SEAPA CEO Trey Acteson was thankful for cooperation from the various municipalities and organizations involved in the transfer. “The city and borough of Wrangell and Petersburg and the Thomas Bay Power Commission down the homestretch everybody we had a real cooperative effort and were able to get some of the critical agreements in place and moving forward. There’s still a few outstanding items, with regard to just finalizing some of the PERS payments it takes the state a while to get that firmed up but all that stuff should fall right into place. No I’m happy to have it behind us and moving on.”
SEAPA has agreed to make payments into the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) for the Tyee workers, instead of the two municipalities.
The transfer was meant to streamline the oversight of the power plant. It essentially removes one appointed commission from the approval process for budgets and other important decisions. It also means some savings in administrative costs. Personnel and payroll issues now are the responsibility of SEAPA the owner of the plant, instead of Thomas Bay. The seven-person commission that oversees the Thomas Bay Power Authority may eventually become inactive, or take on another role.
Meanwhile, SEAPA still contracts with Ketchikan Public Utilities to operate the other hydro plant on the system, at Swan Lake. Acteson said there has been some discussion about SEAPA taking over operations and maintenance there as well. “I think that’ll probably mature over time,” Acteson said. “We’ll get through the Tyee transition and demonstrate that it’s a rather seamless effort. There are some benefits I think to be gained if we did have O&M of both sites. You know we’d be able to potentially utilize the workforce to overlap at both sites and get guys experience working at different places. For instance if you have a maintenance overhaul at one, if you’re a little bit short handed, you potentially could move a couple of guys over from the other site to help out for a week or two, things like that that you currently can’t do with the existing structure.”
Acteson says there really isn’t any impact from the Tyee transfer for the end users of the hydro power, customers in the three communities.
SEAPA’s two hydro projects have benefitted from the soggy summer in Southeast and both mountaintop reservoirs are full and even spilling rainwater in August. “We actually were spilling at both our projects here a week or two ago. So we’re in a great position as we head into winter. Of course, we’ll see typically our heavy inflows come in October. So we’re already full so that’s great for us and great for the consumers as well.”
SEAPA is a joint organization formed by the three communities and sells power to local electric utilities. In addition to the two power plants, it also owns a transmission line connecting the two remote sites.