State funding change to increase rural Alaska utility bills

    Photo credit to Charles Murphy.

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Residents of rural Alaska will be hit with rising energy costs after a statewide funding change, officials said.

    The state Legislature annually transfers money from dozens of state accounts into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, Alaska's Energy Desk reported.

    Officials sais a $1 billion energy account used to offset costs for rural communities is included in the money transfer known as "the sweep."

    Lawmakers for the past 28 years have returned the funds taken at the end of each fiscal year, until this year when they voted not to replenish the account.

    The office of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Legislature included the program in their respective state budgets, but they have not agreed on the funding sources.

    Homeowners' bills could increase from an average of $80 up to thousands of dollars per month, said Reese Huhta of the Unalakleet Valley Electric Cooperative.

    More than 270 homes, 40 businesses and 22 community facilities in the Unalakleet Valley should expect higher bills, Huhta said.

    The city of Unalakleet's electric bill will double, affecting everything from streetlights to collecting water and pumping sewage, he said.

    "Annually they'll spend, in our models, $55,000 to $70,000 more," Huhta said.

    The utility has not received formal notice from the state about the lack of funds to reimburse power costs. It cannot afford to issue billing credits to customers without payment for long, he said.

    "I think we will see more shutoff notices," Huhta said. "We have a lot of members that are on fixed incomes, and there's just not a lot of money trees to shake."

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