CIRI plans expansion of Fire Island wind power

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Native corporation for southcentral Alaska wants to double the number of wind turbines it operates on an island off Anchorage.

Fire Island Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Cook Inlet Region Inc., is making plans to add 11 turbines to its wind farm by October 2015, said Fire Island Wind vice president Suzanne Gibson.

The 11 turbines now in place produced 50,092 megawatt hours of energy in their first year, the Anchorage Daily News reported. CIRI owns 3,600 of the 4,000 acres on Fire Island.

Work on additional turbines began last month so CIRI could obtain a federal investment tax credit that expires in 2013. The credit could save $15 million on the project, Gibson said.

Chugach Electric Association, one of two utilities serving Anchorage, bought all power generated by the turbines as part of a 25-year agreement it signed with CIRI. Negotiations are underway with utilities for the sale of power from the new turbines, Gibson said. Chugach officials had no comment on the status of negotiations.

About 88 percent of Chugach power is generated by burning natural gas and costs the utility $60 to $65 per megawatt hour. The utility pays CIRI $97 for a megawatt hour of wind power.

Chugach spokesman Phil Steyer said wind power provides 2 percent of the electricity delivered to Chugach’s more than 82,000 retail meters and four wholesale customers. Hydroelectric power provides 10 percent.

The use of wind saved 474 million cubic feet of gas in a year, for a fuel savings of about $2.4 million. But Chugach paid $4.6 million for wind power. Experts predict future natural gas costs will exceed wind costs, Steyer said.

In the meantime, customers pay a surcharge averaging $1.22 per month for the more expensive wind power, Steyer said. The company’s long-term goal is 90 percent of energy provided from renewable resources and 10 percent from fossil fuel, Steyer said.

Wind capacity in Alaska has grown from 3.3 megawatts in 2008 to 66.5 megawatts at the end of 2012, Alaska Energy Authority spokeswoman Emily Ford said.

“Wind is an important part of our energy mix and continues to grow,” Ford said.

Fire Island is Alaska’s largest privately owned wind farm. The largest is Golden Valley Electric Association’s Eva Creek Wind, about 14 miles north of Healy.

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