Alaska's capital goes green after avalanche cuts power lines

Juneau, the capital of Alaska and a popular cruise-ship stop, has had little to celebrate since an avalanche wiped out the lines supplying it with hydroelectricity. But four weeks later it has become a model for energy conservation, with its citizens doing everything from unplugging tumble-driers to regulating airport runway lights.

It is a crisis no American metropolis would wish for itself. On 16 April, a roaring snow-slide in the Coastal Range made matchsticks of pylons linking the city to the hydroelectric dam about 40 miles to the south that supplied 80 per cent of its power.

The good news was that the local provider had back-up diesel generators waiting to be cranked up in just such a situation. Less good is the expense. Residents, who already have to contend with a cost of living higher than almost anywhere in the US because of Juneau's remoteness, were told to expect their power bills to quintuple during the three or four months that it would take to repair the lines.

Most homeowners will get their first glimpse of those new bills this week. But the pain may not be quite so bad as anticipated, thanks to an effort by citizens to cut back on energy consumption. It has been an unlikely go-green campaign that is already being seen as a lesson to the rest of America at a time when conservation, in times of rising oil prices, is touted for all.

Everyone has been doing their bit, including the city authorities, which took steps that included closing the municipal sauna, mothballing one of the two lifts in the main library and turning off the airport's runway lights when planes are not landing or taking off. The hope is that some of the initiatives will endure after the avalanche damage is repaired, which may not be until early July.

Businesses have responded too. Televisions in display windows have gone dark. Department stores, hotels and offices have replaced some bulbs with energy-saving models and simply removed others.

At the convention centre, the thermostats have been notched down eight degrees to a not-so-toasty 60F. "Turn off, turn down, unplug," Sarah Lewis, chairwoman of the Juneau Commission on Sustainability, said recently. "That's what everyone is doing and being vigilant about and commenting when others are not."

In all, the city, unreachable by road and with a population of 30,000, has managed to cut consumption by 30 per cent in less than a month, a margin some experts had thought impossible.

But the greatest contribution may have come from homeowners themselves, who have done everything from lighting paraffin lamps to rigging up clotheslines – tumble-driers being one of the greediest of household appliances – and forgetting the ironing. It seems that even in energy-guzzling America people can change their ways when the incentive is there.

"We sold all of our clothes pins the first day," said Doug White, general manager at Don Abel Building Supplies. "I don't think kids even knew what they were for, but they're learning now."

It is a phenomenon that was seen before in Brazil, when a drought starved the power grid of hydro-electric power in 2001. On that occasion, consumers were ordered to cut their use of power by 20 per cent or face fines.

It worked. "In two months, the whole country cut their demand by 20 per cent, and they never really returned to the same level of consumption after that," said Alan Meier, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project