$25 million will fund underwater cables from Fire Island to

$25 million will fund underwater cables from Fire Island to energy grid

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the Alaska State Legislature recently approved $25 million to fund the construction of publicly-owned electric infrastructure needed to connect the proposed Fire Island wind farm to the Railbelt energy grid. Current plans call for submarine transmission cables to be laid from the island to Point Woronzof, near the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The funds were appropriated from the state’s Railbelt Energy Fund to the Alaska Energy Authority.

Wind Energy Alaska LLC (WEA), a 50-50 owned subsidiary of CIRI and national renewable energy company enXco Inc., is currently negotiating commitments from the Railbelt utilities to buy the powerFire Island would generate, which will be followed by long-term power purchase agreements. Once these agreements are in place, construction of the submarine transmission cables can begin.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) removed the Determination of Presumed Hazard it had placed on the Fire Island wind farm project. Fire Island is near the airport, and the FAA had claimed the proposed wind turbines could interfere with their radar. Since then, WEA altered turbine spacing to accommodate FAA concerns, and new radar software was implemented in May 2007.

WEA is moving ahead with the final stages of planning and permitting and hopes to begin construction work this season. WEA anticipates starting production in late 2009 or 2010. Phase one of the Fire Island wind farm would initially deliver up to 50 megawatts of power from 24 turbines to the energy grid, enough to power 15,000 average-size homes. The project could eventually generate 100 megawatts or more, enough to provide power to 35,000 average-sized homes.

More than 90 percent of Southcentral Alaska’s electricity is currently generated from Cook Inlet’s known gas reserves, now expected to run out in less than a decade. Investing in renewable energy, including wind, will help address the energy shortage, contribute to energy diversification in the region and allow Alaska to stay energy independent. Wind energy offers long-term price stability and savings, greater reliability and an inexhaustible energy supply. The wind turbines would have minimal environmental and wildlife impact.

As Alaska’s most immediately feasible, large-scale renewable energy project, the Fire Island wind farm could serve as an anchor project and training ground for more wind and renewable energy projects throughout the state.