Electric Division Frequently Asked Questions
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Residential Electric
What is a kilowatt-hour (kWh)?

A kilowatt-hour (kwh) is a unit of electrical energy equal to the energy delivered by the flow of one kilowatt (1,000 watts) of electrical power for one hour. A 100-watt bulb burning for 10 hours will use one kilowatt-hour of energy. Our metered electric service is charged per kilowatt-hour used in a one month period.

How can I track my own electrical usage?

You can read your meter if you wish to check usage. It will help if you read your meter at the same time each day. Keeping a log of what various usages such as laundry and baking went on during the day will help you to correlate your electrical usage with your meter readings.

You can also use a device known as a Kill-o-Watt, which attaches between your appliances and the wall outlet. This device determines the amount of power each appliance uses. Kill-o-Watts are available to borrow from the Ketchikan Public Library for no charge.

Why is my bill so high?

This is a common complaint, especially during times when the diesel surcharge is in effect. Ketchikan residents enjoy some of the lowest costs of electricity in Alaska, made possible by our extensive hydropower projects. 

To learn more about why your bill is higher than you expected, CLICK HERE

Is my meter accurate?

Before a meter is installed it is tested for accuracy. Meters are usually very reliable devices-- if a meter is malfunctioning it will almost always register less kWh usage, not more.

Before requesting a meter test, please try the Energy Consumption Estimator.

If you still suspect a problem KPU staff will test your meter for accuracy.

Can I produce my own power at my house with a generator or solar panels?

Yes, you can install a generator in your home, as long as you have a device in place to prevent the backflow of the power onto the main KPU owerlines. You can install solar panels for your own use, as long as you have ensured that the roof can support the weight, ensured that the panels are secured in the event of wind, and ensured that you have a device in place to prevent backflow of power onto the main KPU powerlines.

For more information on home power generation in Ketchikan, please visit our Energy Conservation page.

Seasonal & Vacation Use
I was gone for the month, why did my bill remained the same?

If the temperature dropped while you were gone your furnace or electric heater ran longer to maintain the preset temperature. Energized lights and appliances add heat to your home. Your furnace or electric heater will run longer if these lights and appliances are off while you are on vacation. (See above: hot water heater)

In all-electric homes, winter usage in the winter months is in direct proportion to the outside temperature. Using indoor equipment like televisions, lights, an oven, water bed heaters and other appliances has almost no impact on your usage, because it just offsets the amount of heat that would otherwise come from the electric heat.

Does my hot water heater impact my electrical bill even when I'm not using hot water?

Hot water heaters will use only use a small amount less of electricity while you are away than if you were at home using hot water. If you leave your electric water heater energized during your vacation it will continue to maintain the tank temperature. Heat is lost through the insulation and copper pipes that come out of the top. A natural convection of heated water flows up the pipes, cools and returns to the water heater to be re-heated. Hot water tanks account for between ¼ and 1/3 of the average home bill.

It is always recommended that you lower the temperature on your hot water heater while you are away from home.

What other appliances draw energy while I'm away from home?

If refrigerators and freezers were not emptied and turned off while you were gone they will continue to operate to maintain preset temperatures. Other electrical appliances like clocks, heat tapes, security lights and televisions with an “instant-on” feature will continue to use electricity if they are not unplugged.

Can I turn off my circuit breaker before I leave?

Turning off the circuit breaker before you leave will result in no electricity use while you are on vacation. However, when you do this the automatic appliances and lighting will stop. Your refrigerator and freezer will defrost, your water heater will not have hot water for use upon your return, and your home may freeze or be very cold when you walk in the door. If freezing temperatures occur, there is a strong likelihood that pipes will burst without heat tapes or water moving through them.

What do I do if I believe I am the victim of Power Theft?

Ketchikan Public Utilities will act to protect revenue from being lost due to electricity being taken without the knowledge or approval of the Utility. This includes deliberate theft, the falsifying of meter readings, name fraud, billing errors, illegal wiring, or faulty equipment. Ketchikan Public Utilities has an attitude of zero tolerance for theft of service. This attitude was adopted out of concern for the advancement of public safety, to minimize the risk of injuries or death and to remain financially viable so that KPU rates can continue to be among the lowest in the state. Billions of dollars are stolen from utilities across the nation each year in the form of erroneous meter readings, name fraud, meter tampering, and bypasses. These costs are passed on to all utility customers in the form of higher energy bills.

Energy theft is a civil offense under Alaska Law (AS 42.20.030 and AS 42.20.040). It is also a safety issue. Most energy theft situations involve shock and fire hazards for the perpetrator and others. Theft conditions can lead to property damage, personal injury, and even death. If you suspect someone is stealing power from Ketchikan Public Utilities, please report it right away. You will be helping honest utility customers like yourself by recovering the revenue lost due to theft. Using a different name to receive energy in order to avoid paying an outstanding bill is "fraud" as well.

If you have any information regarding possible energy theft, we urge you to call the KPU Electric Division Manager or Assistant Manager at 225-5505. Your report may be anonymous. If you suspect energy theft of any source of energy provided by any utility, you can fill out a universal report form at the International Utilities Revenue Protection Association website.

Power Generation & Diesel Surcharge
What does Ketchikan use for power generation?

Hydropower is the primary source of power.  Ketchikan gets its hydropower from several projects: Ketchikan Lakes, Silvis Lakes, Beaver Falls, Whitman Lake, along with SEAPA's Swan and Tyee Lake projects when available.  When lake levels are low, supplemental diesel power may be required.  KPU has several very large diesel generators at Bailey power plant and two smaller units at North Point Higgins. These are only used as backup generators, not for primary power generation unless lake levels are too low, and power is not available from SEAPA.  Ketchikan Public Utilities is a member of SEAPA (Southeast Alaska Power Agency) along with the Utilities of Wrangell and Petersburg, who both get their hydropower primarily from Tyee Lake.  Ketchikan and the Northern communities are linked by large transmission lines, called the intertie. SEAPA and Ketchikan have a Power Sales Agreement (PSA), which requires that Ketchikan purchase SEAPA's power for any requirement beyond what it can generate from its grandfathered projects Ketchikan Lakes and Silvis/Beaver Falls.

How can Ketchikan get so much rain and still be in a drought?

A "drought" is a period of unusually dry weather that persists long enough to cause problems.  The amount of normal rainfall is different for different areas of the country. A meteorological drought is a decrease in precipitation compared to the historical average for an area.  

With a normal average of 150 inches of rain per year, Ketchikan is definitely in a drought after being exceptionally dry in 2018 with only 100 inches of precipitation. For 2019, the weather has been predicted by NOAA to be both dryer and warmer than normal in the Ketchikan area. Unfortunately, in addition to low rain and snowfall, the cumulative snowpack is much lower than normal at only 40% to 50% of the norm. This means that the typical run-off that occurs each Spring/Summer will be severely diminished or even might not be available to replenish the lakes.

For more information on drought levels in southeast Alaska, please visit the Alaska Drought Monitor webpage.

Why doesn’t KPU develop more reservoirs for power generation?

Ordinarily, Ketchikan receives enough precipitation through rain and snow to supply about 50% of its firm power requirements with its own hydropower.  The additional 50% comes from the power sales agreement with SEAPA. SEAPA owns both Swan Lake and Tyee Lake, and only SEAPA, under the power sales agreement, could develop the next energy production facility in their network. 

There is a permit for a Mahoney Lake hydro-facility that is owned by the village of Saxman.  They do not have the capital to build the facility, and they cannot obtain a loan to build the facility unless SEAPA and KPU would agree to purchase power from them every year, on a regular basis.  SEAPA ordinarily has enough power to support all three member communities without additional hydro-power and therefore would not agree to bring power from Mahoney Lake into the mix until the existing Swan and Tyee projects are fully utilized. Accruing multimillion dollar bond-debt to construct a facility that would be used only infrequently makes the proposal to develop Mahoney economically untenable. 

Why doesn't KPU have other forms of alternative energy in place to offset the drought?

Most energy projects are governed by Federal and/or State agencies that have extensive permitting processes, which can take years to secure. It is not something that can be put in place in a few weeks or months.  In particular, hydropower permitting takes 15 years or more. Additionally, there are pitfalls with both tidal power and wind turbines, as both of these have high upfront costs require continual maintenance. 

What happens if we run out of water in the lakes?

When the lakes are depleted and the hydroelectric generation is restricted we use diesel generation to supplement community power demands. Diesel generators are reciprocating engines with many moving parts and are therefore subject to frequent break downs. Repairs take time, so four supplemental rental diesel generators have been brought in as back-up.  These, together with some hydro-power can supply the community’s needs provided people and businesses take on a conservation-oriented mindset. This means actively committing to conserving as much power as possible by turning down electric heat, unplugging unneeded appliances and lights and by reducing electric-heated hot water temperatures and usage. If demand for power exceeds the ability to produce power in any particular time of the day, then rolling blackouts will have to be instituted during these high demand periods. Typically, these periods follow our daily life cycle with peaks around 6 to 9 am and 6 to 9 pm.  The chances of KPU losing all of the large generators at Bailey and hydropower is unlikely.

What is the diesel surcharge?

It is the charge that is added to every customers electric bill to cover the diesel fuel expense used in power generation when lake levels are too low to supply power.  This only applies if diesel generation was needed for supplemental power. The rate for any month depends on the amount of diesel used in the previous six months. The rate is multiplied by the kilowatt usage in all rate classes (Business and Residential) and is added to the bill as a separate line item.

How is the diesel surcharge calculated?

The total amount of diesel fuel, oil, and part expense used for the generators, and any diesel generator rental charges incurred in a month’s period are added together for a total diesel expense.  Half of the amount is covered by the City/KPU. The other half is divided by the average number of kilowatts the community uses in that month to calculate the per kilowatt-hour diesel surcharge for that month. The per kilowatt charge is then divided by 6 so that one-sixth of the charge will be applied to each of the next six months.  If the previous month(s) also required supplemental diesel, there potentially could be as many as six previous month’s surcharges applied to a bill. The surcharge rate for a month is multiplied by a customer’s kilowatt usage to determine how much each customer will pay. 

Power Outages
What should I do in the event of a power outage?

If you are experiencing a power outage, please call Bailey Powerhouse directly at (907)225-4011.

During the outage, keep all door and windows closed to conserve heat and do not open your refrigerator or freezer to keep their temperatures constant. Landline phones are helpful to have during a power outage, in case you need to call 911 and the cell towers are down. For more information on how to stay safe during an outage, and how to build your own power outage readiness kit, please visit our Power Outages page.

What causes power outages in Ketchikan?

Because the community sits on an island that is essentially a large rock, nearly all power lines are above-ground on power poles.  Most of Ketchikan’s outages are caused by our very large local birds, when they inadvertently touch two live power lines or a power line and structure with their wings. This is especially common at Herring Cove during the salmon return. Other outages are caused by trees, or branches that blow into the lines during storms. Occasionally, an outage will be caused by equipment at SEAPA or KPU.

In general, the Electric Utility industry tracks outages for comparison with two indexes, SAIDI and SAIFI.   One is the System Average Interruption Duration Index and the other is System Average Interruption Frequency Index.  KPU does significantly better in these than most other utilities in North America, especially in duration.  The national average being an hour and a half, while for KPU the average is less than 45 minutes. 

When the power goes out, why can’t KPU Electric tell me exactly when my power will be back on?

When there is an outage, the operator at Bailey Powerhouse can see the approximate area where the outage occurred, but cannot immediately know the source of the outage. If the outage is caused by a diesel  generator in Bailey Powerhouse, the cause is immediately known. If it is somewhere on the island, then the linemen need to be notified to locate the source and correct any problems they find. In the evening and weekends, this requires that linemen are called in from home to find the cause.  Once the cause is identified and repaired, power can be resumed. The power is not turned on all at once, but by substations, feeder by feeder, as load is balanced across generators. This is seen as small areas being brought back up one at a time, as the community is balanced across the grid before the operators restore another area.  The pattern of resuming power throughout Ketchikan varies, depending on the location of the outage, how much of the community is without power, and available generation. 

Do I get charged for power during a power outage?

You are only billed for power that you actually use. When the power is out you do not use any electricity so you don’t pay for power during the outage.