The idea for a commercial-scale wind project was first vetted in the late 1990s by Chugach Electric Association, Alaska’s largest electric cooperative. Chugach analyzed 22 potential sites in Southcentral Alaska, and Fire Island was ultimately chosen for its prevailing wind conditions, proximity to the existing Railbelt power grid and minimal environmental impacts, among other factors.
However, after the studies were conducted, Chugach shifted its focus to providing energy from natural gas and the wind project was put on hold. “But CIRI had years of reliable wind data energy assessments in front of us confirming Fire Island as a commercially viable wind resource,” said CIRI’s Suzanne Settle, senior director, Energy Development. “CIRI Director Margie Brown, who was CIRI’s president and CEO at the time, said ‘We can do this. Let’s develop it ourselves.’”
The Regulatory Commission of Alaska approved a power purchase agreement between Fire Island Wind and Chugach Electric Association on Oct. 10, 2011, clearing the way for major construction to begin. Parts and equipment began arriving in Anchorage in the spring of 2012. On Sept. 24, 2012, Fire Island Wind began commercial operation. In its first quarter of operation, the project performed better than expected, helping to relieve a critical natural gas shortage during the winter months of 2012-2013. In 2017, CIRI came to close to winning approval for Phase 2 of the project that would have doubled its size. CIRI and Fairbanks-based Golden Valley Electric Association signed a power purchase agreement, but negotiations with other utilities that would have to pass the power through their grids made the project uneconomic.