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Atlanta residents said they were willing to pay higher power rates - one of the highest rates in the nation - to keep the town's electricity turned on.

The town, about 80 miles northeast of Boise on the western edge of the Sawtooth Wilderness, lost its hydropower when Kirby Dam failed May 26.Atlanta Power Co. has asked the state Public Utilities Commission to approve a 10.23-cent-per-kilowatt-hour surcharge to cover the increased cost of producing electricity with an aging, Army-surplus diesel generator. The generator gulps about 80 gallons of fuel a day to produce power from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

All 20 residents who attended a PUC hearing at the Atlanta Christian Chapel on Monday backed the surcharge, which would give the small community one of the highest electric rates in the nation. Two people who did not attend submitted statements opposing the charge.

"I've run a small generator of my own up here, and it's not feasible to generate our own power with any efficiency," said Sam Roeber, an 11-year Atlanta resident.

Karen Sayko, co-owner of the Whistle Stop Tavern, said, "Even at 10.23 cents, we can buy power cheaper than we can produce it ourselves. We need the conveniences that electricity provides."

If approved, the rate increase would mean between a $10 and a $50 hike in monthly power bills for residential customers, depending on power use. Atlantans also would rival other remote communities in Alaska and Hawaii for paying power rates near 20 cents per kwh, PUC officials said.

By comparison, Boise residents pay about 5 cents per kwh for electricity.

Atlanta Power Co. General Manager Lynn Stevenson said if the PUC does not approve the rate hike, the utility will shut down service to its 48 customers on July 1.

"We can't afford to operate the generator without it (the rate hike)," he said.

PUC President Joe Miller said the commission would rule in about 10 days.

With hydropower generation at the dam, full-time Atlanta residents used to pay $50 per month, regardless of consumption.

A 4.5 cent surcharge imposed by the PUC last fall has been suspended until September because of the dam's failure. The surcharge covered the expenses of building a new hydropower unit as part of a $500,000 emergency dam improvement project last fall.

Atlanta resident Don Hogge not only supported the rate hike but urged Stevenson to get a second generator in case the old one fails.

"I've got a freezer full of food. If the power goes out for any length of time, we'd lose the whole thing," he said.