Amid ongoing electric debate, energy committee re-forms
The Wrangell Borough Assembly’s energy committee met for the second time ever Tuesday night.
Committee members took no formal actions, other than to elect assembly member James Stough – the only sitting assembly member on the committee – as chair, and to elect Brian Ashton, a Southeast Alaska Power Agency board member and Thomas Bay Power Authority commissioner. The former energy committee chair, board member Pamella McClocskey, had resigned.
However, the committee composed a set of possible recommendations to the assembly to be formally considered at the next meeting. The discussion touched on a lot of issues at the heart of how electricity is made, transmitted, and consumed in Southeast.
The first issue was divestiture from SEAPA altogether, along the lines of a plan proposed to the Thomas Bay Power Authority commission by former commissioner Warren Edgly under which Wrangell would absorb the Thomas Bay Power Authority.
The first and most important item, Stough said, was consideration of divestiture from SEAPA for the various utilities. Under a total divestiture scenario, Swan Lake would become an asset of Ketchikan Public Utilities, Tyee Lake would go to Wrangell, and SEAPA would effectively lose its control of those assets.
The deadline for researching divestiture would be December 2014, Stough said.
“On a few of the items, we’re going to be waiting to see what answers come back from the attorney,” he said. “The original thing was divestiture. That was my original goal was to get into that, read the documents, get legal advice to see what’s going on.”
At the very least, the committee should discuss postponing the deadline for divestiture study further into the future, so that studying the issue remained possible, Stough said.
Committee member Butch Schmidt said SEAPA had denied previous requests to study the issue. Absent a consideration from SEAPA itself, consideration of divestiture would then go to the full Wrangell assembly and then to the assemblies of Ketchikan and Petersburg.
“It’s very confusing being in the middle of it, let alone for an outside person to try and make sense of it,” Ashton said.
A study by board members would create ground for a common discussion of the issue, brought to the table after Petersburg voted to withhold their $55,000 portion of the net non-billable costs associated with operating TBPA, leaving Wrangell to pay for the entire $110,000 portion of the costs.
Ashton also questioned other SEAPA actions.
“This is just my assessment,” he said. “I think the political question has always been whether or not, should we divest. The answer (from other communities) was no about looking at the evaluation process. Some things have not gone well in certain ways that need to be looked at, that have not been in our best interest.”
He listed his opposition to a $2 million fiber cable he said was not properly reviewed.
“Why did an executive decision-maker on that board have to stand his ground for a year and fight to get that?” he said.
SEAPA doesn’t keep adequate minutes, Ashton said.
“It only takes pennies to keep a CD of the minutes,” he said.
He cited an instance during an October SEAPA board meeting where board members offered conflicting versions of events, but minutes were unable to verify his claim about those meetings.
“If you control the information, you control the power,” Schmidt retorted.
A suspicious four-month gap between the time a report was delivered by a review of operations and maintenance costs was delivered by an outside auditor is also troubling, Ashton said. The report, authored by Lynnwood, Wash. based firm D Hittle & Associates was issued on Sept. 13, 2012, and displays operations and maintenance costs rising. Utilities in Ketchikan and Wrangell have objected to the report’s conclusions.
In addition, the board discussed the Bradfield Corridor, and a claim by retired state Sen. Robin Taylor that the corridor, which could potentially connect Wrangell and other communities to the power grid of British Columbia, the use of Sunrise Lake on Woronkofski Island as either a water source or electricity source for Wrangell.
They also briefly discussed the resignation of KPU head Tim McConnell.