City workers haul a 2.5 Mwh capacity diesel generator into Wrangell’s powerhouse. (June Leffler/ KSTK)

This month, Wrangell received a much anticipated gift from the city of Nome. Wrangell’s public utility now has two diesel generators that the western city was ready to throw out. As KSTK’s June Leffller reports, city staff can sleep easier knowing there is enough backup energy for the island town. 

City workers hauled one of two massive generators off the barge and into the public utility’s facilities. The machines each weigh up to 80,000 pounds.  

It’s a good day for Electrical Superintendent Rod Rhoades. It brings relief in the way of backup power.

“When I came to Wrangell, I saw our position as having no plan B,” Rhoades said.

He started at Wrangell Municipal Light and Power less than a year ago. One of the first things he noticed, that left him uneasy, was the limited number of backup generators.

The city runs predominantly on hydropower supplied by the Southeast Alaska Power Agency. But Wrangell and other communities maintain diesel generators in the event that power goes offline. Those instances could come from planned maintenance at the hydro plants and unplanned outages due to bad weather. Or even a lack of water, as the Southeast communities experienced last winter. Wrangell and Petersburg initiated a month-long diesel campaign due to low lake reservoir levels at Tyee Lake.

Rhoades explains that the town’s energy demands peak at 8 or 9 Mwh. Until today, the city had four generators that could hit that mark. But Rhoades says no backup plan is fail-proof.

“in times of need, we have to have 100 percent of the generating capacity at a 100 percent reliability. That’s not a comfortable place to be in,” he said.

If one machine goes down, that could mean rolling blackouts for the city.

The machines received today will add about 4 Mwh to pull from.

Plus, the city was fortunate it even got this machinery. Rhoades heard that the city of Nome was ready to trash these, and Wrangell got them for free. The Southeast city paid $60,000 for shipping and sent a crew to get everything ready for the barge. For Nome that meant pretty much free labor to get the bulky equipment out of their town. 

“They were great units for us and they did have more life in them, they just didn’t fit into the mix for us,” said John Handeland, the utility manager for Nome.

The town got a brand new plant in 2007 with new larger capacity generators.

“We’re excited with the fact that they can be of further use and didn’t just end up in the land-fill,” Handeland said. “We’re glad they have a new home.”

Turns out one city’s trash is another’s treasure.