A word from the president: Tikahtnu Commons and Fire Island wind farm are shaping up, growing fast

By: Margie Brown, CIRI president and CEO

When I go out and about and talk with people around Anchorage, I am frequently asked two questions:

When are the next big store openings at Tikahtnu Commons?
What is happening with the Fire Island wind farm?

Tikahtnu Commons is the 95-acre retail and entertainment center that CIRI and Browman Development Co. are building in Northeast Anchorage. Target opened the center’s first store last October and has enjoyed excellent business despite the national recession. Now a stream of new store openings is set to begin within the next few weeks. Lowes Home Improvement center is scheduled to open at the end of March, followed by Alaska’s first Kohl’s department store the first week of April. The Sports Authority and Best Buy will open new stores later this spring. And we recently turned half a dozen Tikahtnu Commons shops over to a variety of smaller retail and service tenants, from Marble Slab Ice Cream to cell phone centers and sub shops. These businesses should open within the next few months.

CIRI’s Fire Island wind farm is also proceeding nicely. CIRI and its partner, enXco Inc., one of North America’s leading renewable energy project developers, formed Wind Energy Alaska to develop, build, operate and maintain the Fire Island wind farm. Wind Energy Alaska originally proposed to build a 36-tower, 54-megawatt Fire Island project, but Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concerns about wind farm compatibility with its aircraft navigation equipment (VOR) that is located on the island resulted in approval for us to only proceed with a scaled-back, 24-tower project.

However, when President Obama was elected, he made renewable energy development a national priority. We took advantage of the president’s renewable energy agenda and, with assistance from all three of Alaska’s Congressional delegation members, Wind Energy Alaska started working cooperatively with the FAA to replace the Fire Island VOR with an off-island facility that will enable the construction of the originally proposed 36-turbine wind farm without degrading aviation operations or safety.

We learned in February that the FAA does not object to replacing the existing VOR with an upgraded “dopplerized” VOR located off island, provided a public comment period demonstrates that the airport does not object, that no user groups will be adversely affected, and that appropriate studies demonstrate that public safety will not be compromised. We also understand that the FAA can enter into a reimbursable agreement process that would enable CIRI to construct the new upgraded VOR as quickly as possible and then be reimbursed for at least some of the costs.

This development is important because moving the VOR before the wind farm is brought online will significantly improve performance, reduce project construction costs and, in turn, lower the cost of Fire Island wind power. It also will save taxpayer money by eliminating planned Fire Island VOR upgrades that would have to be duplicated at the new VOR.

We are now working with FAA officials to start the process of moving and upgrading the VOR. We also are updating our pending Fire Island wind project permit applications to accommodate the expanded, 36-tower project. If everything works out as we anticipate, workers will start Fire Island site work this summer so that the expanded 36-tower project can in built and brought online in 2010.

The Fire Island wind farm development coincides nicely with the national initiative to increase energy production from renewable sources. The wind farm will diversify our region’s power generation resources and increase long-term electricity price stability by offsetting the natural gas needed to power up to 19,500 homes. And with an expanded project, Southcentral Alaska electricity consumers will benefit even more from our efforts.