The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members want a say in the process as Canadian utility company Hydro One works toward its purchase of Juneau’s electric utility.
The Regulatory Commission of Alaska rejected Hydro One’s initial request to take over Alaska Electric Light & Power on a minor technicality, forcing Hydro One to re-file its application. This reset the public comment period, which is open until Thursday, Dec. 21.
City staff is currently writing up a letter to the RCA, expressing that the CBJ is interested in weighing in on future decisions and would like to be kept in the loop. City Manager Rorie Watt said that the letter would likely not make a huge difference other than keeping the lines of communication open. If the city doesn’t make any comment, Watt said, the RCA might not realize that city officials are interested in the process.
“The argument in favor of the letter is that the RCA is not mind-readers, and letting them know that it’s important to say that we’re tracking it,” Watt said. “Other than that, I can’t really articulate an advantage.”
Hydro One, which is partially owned by the Canadian government, is working to purchase Avista, the parent company of AEL&P. Avista owns electric utilities in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho as well. The sale was announced in July and is expected to be finalized sometime in 2018.
At the CBJ Assembly meeting Monday night, the impending deadline first came up during the public comment. Juneau resident Margo Waring spoke to the Assembly members about the deadline, urging the Assembly to submit comment asking that it can be notified of chances to weigh in on future decisions.
“On the off chance that there’ll be some ways in which we can advocate for the needs of this community, for making sure that our seniors, our low-income people are getting the same breaks that people in Washington and Oregon are getting, this is the time to do it,” Waring said.
The Dec. 21 deadline is for everyone, even those who submitted comment during the previous RCA comment period. Those who submitted comments must re-submit them in this application, and they can do so at https://rca.alaska.gov/RCAWeb/WhatsNew/PublicNoticesComments.aspx. Among those who have submitted comment is Alaska Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who expressed his concern about the purchase.
The Assembly members have discussed the impending sale at length at Assembly meetings, Committee of the Whole meetings and Finance Committee meetings. The Assembly was supposed to meet with representatives from Hydro One and Avista this week, but that meeting fell through.
Watt said he and CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew have been working to bring in a former RCA commissioner to a Finance Committee meeting in January to educate the Assembly members on the RCA process. Even AEL&P President Connie Hulbert said during a meeting in November that the RCA evaluation process is extremely complex and hard to grasp.
Assembly member Jesse Kiehl (also the Finance Committee chair) said he is looking forward to having that meeting, and that he thinks filing comment with the RCA now is a good idea to keep the Assembly’s options open.
“I think it’s a great idea to bring somebody who used to be on the RCA because the Assembly, I just don’t know what kind of opportunity we have to participate,” Kiehl said, “so if this keeps our foot in the door open without necessarily pushing either way, and just keeps it open, that I think is what we should do now.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.