CIRI moving forward with Fire Island wind project

Photo/Rob Stapleton/AJOC
Plans for its newly proposed coal-powered plant are grabbing headlines, but Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Alaska Native regional corporation headquartered in Anchorage, is still moving firmly ahead with plans for a multi-million dollar wind power project on Fire Island by 2011.

"We anticipate this will be enough to power 19,500 households," said Jim Jager, director of corporate communications for CIRI. "It’s a big enough chunk of energy that you don’t want to say ’no’ to it."

Jager said CIRI, in a business agreement with enXco, is moving ahead with the wind project. EnXco, an affiliate of the French firm EDF Energies Nouvelles, develops, operates and manages wind energy projects throughout the U.S. It is the country’s largest third-party operations and maintenance provider for wind parks, currently servicing more than 3,600 turbines nationwide, CIRI officials said.

Alaska Interstate Construction LLC, owned jointly by CIRI and Nabors Industries Ltd., is currently clearing acreage on Fire Island for the project, he said. CIRI also has plans for more of the geotechnical work needed for final planning purposes. "We will start construction next summer," Jager said.

The state will foot the $25 million bill for the transmission line to connect Fire Island to the Railbelt grid, but only when CIRI has power purchase agreements in place, he said.

CIRI envisions a 36-turbine project with 1.5 megawatt turbines, which would provide 54 megawatts of power if all the turbines were running at full tilt, Jager said.

In general, with such a project, there is about a 30 percent efficiency, based on how strong the winds blow, Jager said.

"When the wind is blowing, you turn down gas-fired generation," he said. "Even though wind towers are not part of the base load, they will offset the amount of gas needed at any given moment."

The savings would be between 1 billion and 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas a year, generating enough power for 19,500 Anchorage households, he said.

How well the cost of developing, operating and maintaining such a facility will pencil out is still the question, but Jager said even if the cost is slightly more expensive there is value in having diversified energy resources. "Suddenly there are back-up options," he said.

Once completed, the wind power project will employ about a dozen people full time.

Chris Rose, of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, said he doesn’t believe CIRI would continue its efforts unless its officials felt they could sell the power.

"There is a lot of value in predictably priced, stably priced energy," Rose said. "Once the turbines are in, you know what the cost will be and anybody who wants to invest in a community like Anchorage will want to know what’s the cost of doing business. The more flat-priced energy, the better. This helps hedge against natural gas prices."

Jager said CIRI envisions Fire Island as an anchor project, and that similar smaller projects will be gradually developed up and down the Railbelt.

"While people worry that wind is not a reliable resource in some locations, more than likely, the wind will be blowing somewhere," he said.

Rose agreed there are several places along the Railbelt with good wind power potential, including Eva Creek near Healy and the Delta area.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at [email protected].

10/14/2009 - 8:00pm