Fire Island Wind energy project moving forward

Fire Island Wind LLC, a wholly owned CIRI subsidiary, is working to construct the Fire Island wind project and start generating power by late 2012. Company officials awarded an engineering, procurement and construction contract for the project to Delaney Construction Group in September. Delaney is a civil construction company with experience building wind power and other energy projects nationwide, including Kodiak Electric Association’s Pillar Mountain wind project.

Contractors are clearing and grubbing the project site as well as installing two turbine foundations on the south end of the island this fall. Construction of remaining turbine pads, roads and transmission infrastructure will occur during the 2011 construction season, followed by turbine installation and commissioning in 2012. The project is being constructed on CIRI land on Fire Island, three miles west of Anchorage.

In 2010 the Fire Island Wind team is also constructing a new Dopplerized VOR (VHF omni-directional radio range) aircraft navigation facility for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. The new VOR will replace the FAA’s existing Fire Island VOR in order to eliminate potential interference issues.

The project will use 33 General Electric XLE 1.6 MW wind turbines to generate approximately 144,000 MW hours of electricity annually, enough to supply 17,000 Alaska homes. Power from the project is expected to offset about 1.5 BCF of natural gas annually that would otherwise be burned for Railbelt power generation.

The Fire Island wind project is an important first step toward solving Southcentral Alaska’s looming energy crisis. The region currently relies on locally produced natural gas to generate more than 90 percent of its electricity and virtually all heating demand. However, Cook Inlet natural gas production has declined 40% since 2005 and Railbelt utility studies forecast that deliverable gas supplies could fall short of peak demand beginning in 2013 or 2014. This means Railbelt utility customers could face rolling blackouts during peak demand periods, especially during extended winter cold snaps. Fire Island wind will provide an alternative energy source for stable-priced electric power and could delay expected gas shortfalls by several years, thereby providing time to bring new Southcentral energy sources online. Wind-generated power prices are more stable than fossil fuel-generated power prices because wind is not subject to the fluctuations of world energy prices.

Fire Island Wind officials are negotiating power purchase agreements with several Railbelt utilities, including Chugach Electric Association, Municipal Light and Power, Matanuska Electric and Golden Valley Electric Association. Fire Island Wind is offering power prices that are competitive with current West Coast renewable energy prices and that favorably compare with the expected costs of competing Railbelt power sources when the project goes online.