Juneau's teaching moment

AP Photo/Seanna O'Sullivan
A group of friends in Juneau, Alaska, prepare for to eat dinner by candlelight on Monday, April 28.

The New York Times today has a story on how Juneau, Alaska cut their energy use by more than 30 percent in a matter of weeks.

The city did so not out of green altruism, but out of necessity. On April 16 three avalanches wiped out transmission towers from the Snettisham hydropower project, and forcing the city onto diesel generators. Residents of the small Alaskan capital face a 447 percent increase of the price of electricity.

The Times's William Yardley describes how Juneauites are cutting back:

Comfort has been recalibrated. The public sauna has been closed and the lights have been dimmed at the indoor community pool. At the library, one of the two elevators was shut down after someone figured out it cost 20 cents for each round trip. The thermostat at the convention center was dialed down eight degrees, to 60. The marquee outside is dark.
Schoolchildren sacrifice Nintendo time and boast at show-and-tell of kilowatts saved. Hotels consult safety regulations to be sure they have not unscrewed too many light bulbs in the hallways. On a recent weekday, all but one of the dozens of television screens on display at the big Fred Meyer store were black — off, that is.

The good news is that charities have stepped in to help out poorer residents, and the utility, Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., is seeking to 'levelize' the billing so that customers can spread the fees over the year. What's more, it looks like the transmission towers were not as damaged as previously thought, so they may be fixed ahead of schedule.

The Times notes that the AEL&P's website posts daily consumption stats (PDF). On the day before the avalanches, the city consumed 1,006 megawatt hours; as of this post, that number is 671. I wonder how much it will go back up once the towers are repaired.

I hope Juneau gets their power online soon. No normal household should have to face a $350 electric bill. But just as an unexpected blackout can remind us of the joys of playing board games by candlelight, a sudden spike in prices can show us that there are some 'necessities' that we don't really need after all. When their crisis is over, the people of Juneau may have something to teach the rest of us.

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