Electrical lines on Church Street in Wrangell.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Wrangell electrical customers will see higher electrical bills beginning in February, after the local government approved the community’s first electrical rate increase in nearly a decade.

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A screenshot from Assembly documents shows the new rates for residential customers, highlighted in yellow, compared to the old rates, which are bold and in brackets.

Electrical bills in Wrangell will be 6 to 7% higher next month. At a Tuesday (January 11) meeting, Wrangell’s assembly approved a rate increase of one cent per kilowatt-hour for all electrical customers. Electrical rates for residential customers are calculated with a base price of $8, and additional tiered rates based on the amount of electricity used. 

A portion of the rate hike is in response to a jump in the wholesale price of power. Wrangell, Ketchikan and Petersburg all purchase hydroelectricity from the Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA). Last month, SEAPA’s board voted to increase the wholesale cost of power by a quarter of a penny per kilowatt-hour (kWh), citing large infrastructure costs over the last year. It’s SEAPA’s first wholesale rate increase in more than two decades.

Wrangell’s local government had initially considered matching SEAPA’s rate increase. But last month it gave initial approval for an increase three-quarters of a cent above the wholesale increase. The assembly rationalized the hike by saying it would help pay to maintain and repair aging infrastructure in Wrangell. 

Mayor Steve Prysunka also sits on the SEAPA board. He told the Wrangell Assembly on Tuesday (January 11) that there may be more wholesale rate increases coming. But he clarified that isn’t exactly why Wrangell is raising its rates. 

“I think it would be disingenuous to just say, ‘We’re raising ours now in anticipation of them raising theirs,’ because we’re gonna have a year of increased revenue from the raised raise,” Prysunka said, referencing discussions at the December meeting about the need to replenish Wrangell’s electrical enterprise fund.

Assembly member Patty Gilbert supported the rate increase but said SEAPA should coordinate more closely with the places it serves. 

“I would appreciate that they give the communities advance notice,” she said. “I know that there were rumblings about an increase, but this goes into effect for the public next month, and we had only a month or so notice.”

She also expressed frustration with the time of year. 

“The dead of winter, in my estimation, is not a good time to raise electrical rates,” Gilbert stated. 

Prysunka said that even as a board member of SEAPA, he was surprised by how quickly the rate increase was realized. 

“An increase had been proposed in December of last year, and the board shut it down because we didn’t have enough time to adequately prepare the communities,” Prysunka explained. “So I think you guys will remember I came back on numerous occasions that said, ‘A rate increase is coming. I don’t know how much but a rate increase is coming.’ And I’ve sort of been saying that in meetings. But I guess I wrongfully assumed that there would be something official from SEAPA saying ‘Hi on such and such a date the board is going to be meeting and will vote to raise it this much so you should anticipate that raise.'”

Wrangell will start paying SEAPA’s increased wholesale power rate on January 20.

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