Wrangell Sentinel -

Thomas Bay Power Commission reviews its role


Wrangell’s members of the Thomas Bay Power Commission (TBPC) gathered around a telephone Tuesday morning at City Hall to discuss the body’s future with their Petersburg counterparts.

The TPBC is the acting body for the Thomas Bay Power Authority (TBPA) that was responsible for the operations and maintenance (O&M) of the Tyee Hydroelectric Plant, providing power to Wrangell and Petersburg.

Last May the Petersburg Assembly voted not to fund its share of a portion of the TBPA’s budget, called the non-net billable, after discussions about whether or not the agency was fulfilling its responsibility of developing new hydro projects for the region in addition to carrying out the O&M of the Tyee facility. There was also concern of unnecessary redundancies between TBPA and SEAPA.

Petersburg’s vote to stop funding its share of the TBPC budget began months of negotiations and discussions about the future of Tyee’s operations and the role and necessity of the TBPC.

Back in June both assemblies approved a transition of the O&M from the TBPA to SEAPA. SEAPA assumed the daily operations of the plant and took on its six remaining employees on Aug. 16 after reaching a collective bargaining agreement with IBEW.

Tuesday’s meeting brought TBPC members together to discuss the agency’s future in light of the finalization of the O&M handover to SEAPA last month.

“There’s several reasons why we need to hang around for a while,” said Bob Prunella who was appointed vice president of the commission back in July. Chief among these is the commission’s binding role between the Petersburg and Wrangell communities.

From a practical standpoint, Clay Hammer said their role “comes down to what it is our assemblies have us do.”

“It seems to me we should have a suggestion where we should go,” said Robert Larson, TBPC president. After discussing the matter, commissioners decided they would craft a letter presenting the question for the two boroughs’ assemblies.

Commission members also discussed their financial state.

“We’re pretty much out of budget money,” said Joe Nelson, representing Petersburg. This limits commissioners’ ability to travel and convene in person.

Though not officially speaking for his borough, he thought there might be some funds available in the Petersburg Municipal Power and Light budget.

Nelson agreed that commissioners ought to continue sending a representative to both boroughs’ assembly meetings, either to find a new project to collaborate on or else “wind things down and go dormant for a while.”

In his report for Petersburg, Nelson said that the Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA) board of directors had decided at its Sept. 3 meeting to distribute a refund to its client communities.

“We did approve a rebate,” he explained, estimating the figure in the neighborhood of $200,000 each for Wrangell and Petersburg.

Nelson added that it will likely be the last rebate the communities can expect in the coming years.

“We’re going to need to establish our war chest for the dam raise at Swan Lake,” he explained. SEAPA is still raising funds for the project, which will raise the dam from 344 to 358 feet and increase its storage capacity.

Otherwise, both communities’ power departments are preparing to accommodate the winter heat load.

“Our processing season has ramped down to almost nil now,” Clay Hammer reported for Wrangell. Speaking as electrical superintendent of Wrangell Municipal Light and Power (WMLP), he said they were readying production for a heating-focused winter configuration.

He also reported that WMLP has found a new line foreman, welcoming back Bruce Smith Sr. when he starts the position Sept. 22.

“We’ll have a full crew again,” Hammer said, for the first time in a year.

“I’m glad to hear Mr. Smith is coming back,” Prunella added.


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