I’m Back

I’ve neglected the blog for the past couple of years – I think I just didn’t feel like I had anything new to say. Or maybe I had a lot to say, but these days it’s often better not to say too much. I’m sticking with nature, travel, and life in a somewhat unconventional place, and I’m posting a little over on Instagram, too – mostly just photos and very few words.

Today I’m going to talk about electrical power.

It’s so easy to take electrical power for granted.  In our homes, we plug things into the 110v wall socket and they work.  On the boat, we’ve learned never to take electric power for granted, and we’re always aware of the power we need versus the source of that power.  In some cases, we’re running on our battery bank (an array of 8 batteries providing over 1800 amp-hours), and we need to constantly monitor the state of our batteries to make sure we don’t discharge them too far.  If we’re plugged into shore power – do we have 50 amps and 220v, or are we using an adapter where we may only have 30 amps and 110v, or even less?  In that case, we may not be able to run everything on the boat, and we have to choose what to prioritize.  Or are we running the generator (providing 220v) and charging our batteries?  The boat has taught us to think about power ALL the time.

Living on an island, we also have to think about electrical power.  Southeast Alaska is an archipelago – a collection of 1,100 islands about 300 miles long, covering almost 17 million acres (mostly the Tongass National Forest). Even the mainland is isolated by mountains, and almost all of it is not connected to the road system – including the state capitol Juneau.  The only way to get around is by boat or by plane.  Much like the small island settlements we visited in the Bahamas, most communities need to run big diesel generators to make electrical power for their town.  Fuel is expensive to purchase, it’s expensive to transport, and running a huge town-sized generator 24/7 isn’t the best for the environment. 

Mitkof Island (where we live) is lucky since we get our power from hydro-electric generators, and Petersburg has been doing that since 1924!  Our mountains have many lakes at altitude, so our town’s early settlers built a dam up on Crystal Lake (1300’ above sea level), and added a 4652’ pipe (penstock) down the steep mountainside to a turbine.  It’s a pretty ambitious feat, and it’s sobering to look up the mountain, imagining the work just to clear a swath of the dense forest in order to work on the very steep slope. 

The original turbine was replaced in 1955, and this year the turbine and penstock were replaced with all new equipment, just in time for the hydro plant’s 100th birthday.  This hydro system provides about 25% of the power needed for our community of 3000 people (and a couple of fish processing plants), and the remainder of the power comes from hydro-electric dams on nearby islands that serve ours and two other communities.  Not only is our hydro environmentally friendly, it’s also very cheap power. We do have some big diesel generators right in town to supply power just in case something in the hydro system fails. The photo below is the 1955 hydro generator that was just replaced.

Here is a photo of part of the new system, which will hopefully last us for another 100 years! The big block in the lower left is the massive counterweight for the valve that controls water flow to the generator. When that valve is closed and the water is bypassing the generator, the ground vibrates and the sound is a loud roar.

Big equipment needs big tools!

For geeky readers, our town’s power needs are over 13 megawatts in the winter, 8 megawatts in the summer (we have two fish processing plants running hard then), and about 6 megawatts in the spring and fall.

It has been a COLD spring and early summer, and pretty rainy so far.  Here it is June 3, and it’s barely over 50F.  We’re in hoodies and jackets, and we can’t wrap our brains around sweltering summer temps in other parts of the country.

We’re less than three weeks away from the summer solstice, when the daylight is the longest – about 18.5 hours.  Right now, the light is increasing by only about a minute per day, but for much of the year we gain or lose daylight at a rate of 5 minutes a day – 35 minutes per week! 

8 thoughts on “I’m Back

  1. R&R,

    That was a fun read, never would have even thought to ask you about that! Safe travels this Summer …..and keep those batteries topped up.

    Jim & Cathy

    • What an interesting article! You’re right Power is a blessing we take for granted. The crew who monitor our sources and provide a fix when it has a problem are excellent! Even in Ohio we didn’t get the Psg. provies on an outage. Thanks for coming back on your blog!

      Carol Beckett

  2. Interesting blog! You have an amazing understanding of power sources and operations in your area. I am impressed! Of course, I should not be surprised, as you have always been knowledgeable about power operations on your boat. Carol

  3. Good info, I should look up what Wrangell has, curious minds and all. Happy adventure-ing.

  4. Thanks for getting the blog going again. It is always great to hear anything about your adventurous life in Alaska.
    Bill & Mary
    Harbour Reach

  5. “Powerful” words and photos. 😊 Couldn’t resist punning you on this interesting topic. Great job, Robin.

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