Rural Alaska electric utilities stricken by high fuel prices

Village electric utilities in rural Alaska, panicked over the sky-high cost of fuel arriving on the summer's first barges, are appealing to the state for help.

The fuel bill for the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, which serves 53 small villages in the west of the state, is leaping from $14 million last year to $26 million. That cost will be reflected in electricity rate increases that some villagers cannot afford, said Meera Kohler, the co-op's president.

In the village of Eek, for example, residents are looking at electric bills increasing another one-third to one-half. Eek, near the mouth of the Kuskokwim River, has an average household income of only $17,500, according to the federal census. Many families already have a hard time paying electric bills that run to $300 a month, said city clerk Fritz Petluska.

"There's quite a few families that designate one of their Permanent Fund checks to AVEC," Petluska said. "I think in most villages, that's what's going on."

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