Water from Crystal Lake on southern Mitkof Island is dropped through this penstock to a powerhouse at Blind Slough. Its one of the community’s three hydroelectric sources running low this winter. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s backup diesel generators are expected to be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week starting Tuesday, February 26.

That was the latest update from Petersburg’s utility director Karl Hagerman at a borough assembly meeting Monday night. He told the borough assembly that the community’s electrical situation is changing daily and not improving.

“The weather got us in this situation and the weather’s keeping us in this situation and the forecast, although great for cabin fever in February, is horrible for the power production,” Hagerman told the assembly. “Another 10 days of sunshine is on the forecast and dipping down into 20 degrees at night doesn’t let any water move into our reservoirs. They’re at higher elevations anyways so that the temperatures that we see in town that might reach 40 degrees aren’t 40 degrees at 1200 feet of elevation. So it’s a very difficult time.”

Even with round-the-clock diesel generation, Petersburg isn’t completely off hydroelectricity but it could be soon. The community is still drawing a small amount of power from the three mountaintop lakes. Those are the borough’s reservoir at Crystal Lake on Mitkof Island and the Southeast Alaska Power Agency’s projects at Tyee Lake near Wrangell and Swan Lake near Ketchikan. Hagerman expects power would no longer be available from Swan Lake by the middle of this week.

“So we’re not completely on diesel power,” Hagerman said. “I want to make that clear to the community that we are still receiving hydro power from SEAPA but the lake levels are really coming into play and it’s becoming more and more important for us to try and stop or reduce that draft rate, the usage rate from the lakes.”

Hagerman is hoping the constant diesel generation will postpone the day when Petersburg exhausts its hydro resources. Diesel electricity is more costly than hydro power. The fuel for round the clock generation is expected to top 15-thousand dollars a day. To cover that cost he’s recommending spending a rebate check from SEAPA, which will cover fuel costs until this weekend. After that Hagerman is recommending a surcharge on electrical bills as soon as April.

In lieu of that, the community could opt to spend down cash reserves in the electric utility or hope for an additional payment from SEAPA. That last option could be up for discussion by the SEAPA board this Thursday. Assembly member Bob Lynn is Petersburg’s voting member on that board and said it is important to leave some reserve water in the reservoirs.

“Long and the short is we want to preserve in those lakes some modicum of reserve that we can fall back on if something happens to any one of the three communities and that’s kind of the issue on the table before the board,” Lynn said. “I did ask for, at the meeting, is to have alternatives presented to us, for different ways to reimburse the two communities who had to go on diesel and that should be quite a discussion on Thursday.”

Meanwhile, the borough is encouraging conservation measures.