Yakutat power sale draws ample opposition

State regulators will decide the fate of Yakutat’s municipal power company, but a large group of local residents wants the final word to be theirs.

In a public comment submitted to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, former mayor Larry Powell presented the names of 277 Yakutat residents affixed to a petition declaiming the sale of the local power company to the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative.

“It’s obviously in AVEC’s best interests, but it’s not in Yakutat’s best interests,” Powell said by phone.

He and other town residents would prefer the power grid stay in the hands of a municipal company. “We have people here, we have the capability, we’ve been doing it for 30 years, and it keeps us in control of our own rates,” he said.

The petition is a copy of one first submitted to the City and Borough of Yakutat Assembly this spring. It’s the work of a group of local activists who supported alternative energy and Yakutat’s existing power system.

“I just call it an alternative energy working group,” Powell said.

The group is concerned that AVEC will not back biomass energy or tidal energy to replace Yakutat’s diesel-fired power plant, built in 2014. Yakutat’s municipal power company has supported studies of tidally driven generators.

“We’re totally diesel-dependent right now; we need somebody who wants to be innovative,” said Jack Endicott, owner of the city’s famed surf shop.

Yakutat’s power sale has been in the works for years, but it will reach culmination in April 2017, the deadline for state regulators to rule on a license transfer from the city to AVEC, which runs the power systems of 51 rural Alaska communities.

Yakutat would be the first AVEC location in Southeast.

Those who signed the petition and oppose the sale say they’re frustrated that the issue didn’t come before voters in a referendum vote. Earlier this year, the Assembly voted to proceed with the sale without a referendum.

Jimmi Jensen, a member of the Assembly, said the belief among petitioners is that “every citizen here has an equal share in that powerhouse, and I don’t feel every citizen had an equal say in the sale.”

Jensen was elected on a write-in bid in October, months after the Assembly’s decision.

In hindsight, Powell said it was a mistake to not make the petition a formal one. As an informal document, the list of names had no binding power on the Assembly. Members could choose to ignore it, and they did, he said, even though the list is more than half of Yakutat’s 458 registered voters.

Endicott, who is among those on the petition, said, “It’s kind of frustrating to me. If the majority of people wanted it, they’d vote for it; if they didn’t want it, they’d vote against it. The public really didn’t get much of a say in the whole thing.”

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