By Margie Brown, CIRI president and chief executive officer
CIRI’s Fire Island Wind project has been in the works for more than a decade. Most of the early work involved planning, testing, permitting and financing took place on the island or in offices and meeting rooms and out of broad public view.
That changed last fall when the Regulatory Commission of Alaska approved Fire Island Wind’s 25-year power purchase agreement with Chugach Electric Association. That approval cleared the way for CIRI to finalize project financing and start the visible work of building the wind farm that is already generating economic benefits for Southcentral Alaska.
Area residents started seeing the first local construction work last fall when Anchorage-based Northern Powerline Constructors Inc.’s crew started building the shore-side transmission line that will deliver Fire Island Wind power to the Railbelt electric grid. That portion of the project is nearly complete and the 25-person work crew is scheduled to finish installing the line and rehabilitating and reseeding the areas around the line in late June.
CIRI expects that the Fire Island Wind will support more than 100 local project development and construction jobs this year. Over the longer term it will benefit local electric consumers by diversifying our region’s power-generation away from its current over-dependence on natural gas.
So far more than 75 local, state, national and even international businesses have participated in the Fire Island Wind project. CIRI has, for example contracted with local and national engineering and consulting firms to help plan, design and permit the project. Golder Associates and HDR, for example, are large U.S. companies with international operations and a strong presence in Anchorage. HDR’s main Alaska office occupies two floors in the CIRI building. CRW Engineering Group LLC, The Boutet Company and Rise Alaska LLC, are all-Alaska based engineering and consulting companies that have contributed to the project. And dozens of other Alaska small businesses are contributing too. Anchorage Merrill Field-based Spernak Airways has been flying project staff to and from Fire Island for years. Pyramid Printing has produced a variety of maps, brochures and other printed materials to support project development. Alaska Hydro Ax crews and equipment cleared significant portions of the project site. And the list goes on from there.
After CIRI finalized its project financing last fall it ordered 11 wind turbines from General Electric, a U.S.-based company with worldwide operations. Like many large projects and pieces of capital equipment–including your personal automobile–equipment for this project is sourced from around the globe.
Our G.E. wind turbine components started to arrive at the Port of Anchorage in April. The towers came from China and were transported on a specialized ship from the Netherlands. The blades came from Brazil. And the turbines were manufactured in Tehachapi, California. The hubs were made in Florida. The submarine transmission cable that will connect Fire Island to Anchorage was manufactured in Norway, shipped to Port MacKenzie, and it will be installed using a specially-outfitted barge from Seattle that will be operated by Wasilla-based Cruz Construction.
As I write this message crews are on Fire Island constructing roads and other project infrastructure. Crews are scheduled to install the submarine transmission cable in June. Cook Inlet Tug and Barge Co. will start moving wind turbine parts from the Port of Anchorage to Fire Island in early July and installation will start almost immediately. The first Fire Island wind turbine should be erected and visible from Anchorage’s Coastal Trail in early July. All of the construction work should be complete and the Fire Island Wind project is expected to be commissioned and generating power in early fall.
Power generated by the Fire Island Wind project will be a testament to CIRI and Southcentral Alaska’s participation in and contribution to a global economy. We are proud that this CIRI project is creating so many local contracting opportunities, construction jobs and other benefits.