All 11 wind turbines on Fire Island are now generating power for the Anchorage area. Officials at Cook Inlet Region Inc. say they've been testing the turbines and transmission lines for nearly a month now. And Monday it became official -- all of them are feeding into the grid.
If the wind is blowing, from now on when you look out across Cook Inlet from Anchorage, you might be able to see them spinning, all 11 of them. The wind turbines on Fire Island are providing the first source of wind renewable energy for Alaska's largest city and surrounding areas.
Suzanne Gibson is vice president of Fire Island Wind and the senior director of energy development for CIRI, the Native corporation that built the wind farm. She said CIRI completed construction in mid-August but they've been tying up details since.
"So it's sort of a checklist of things that we've had to accomplish in order to reach this date and we felt like were there on Friday and so we submitted a certificate of commercial operation to Chugach on Friday, which makes today sort of the contractual effective date that we began commercial operations with our buyer," Gibson told KSKA.
The buyer is Chugach Electric Association. At the beginning, the cost of the wind power will be more expensive than power from natural gas they use to generate most of their power now. Chugach power costs, on average, 6 cents per kilowatt hour. At the start the wind power will be 3.7 cents more. The project has been in the works since the 1990s, when a study identified Fire Island as the best place in the area to capture wind power. And during the recent windstorm, Gibson said, nature proved her point a little too strongly.
"The wind speeds were so high over on Fire Island that the turbines actually cut out," she said.
But Gibson said there was no damage to the turbines during the storm. The turbines are manufactured by General Electric. They tower 100 feet taller than the Conoco Phillips building, the city's tallest building. Chris Rose is with the Renewable Energy Alaska Project, or REAP, a nonprofit whose mission is to facilitate the increased development of renewable energy in Alaska. He said with gas prices expected to rise, wind power will be a money-saver.
"Wind power is a very mature resource around the world," Rose said. "And for us to finally be getting it in the Anchorage area is a boon, because I think people understand now more that it is something that is happening other places, it's not something that is going to happen in the future."
It's estimated the project will provide 4 percent of Chugach Electric Association's power, or enough electricity to power about 4,000 homes along the Railbelt. Rose pointed out Iowa started much the same way as Alaska, but now supplies about 20 percent of the state's power via wind. Rose said he hopes Fire Island is just the beginning.
"I think this is the start of many other renewable energy projects that are going to be going into the Railbelt grid," Rose said.
The turbines start producing power when the wind reaches 8 mph. CIRI officials say the entire project cost $65 million, but state and federal grants are helping pay the bills. CIRI has permits to build 22 more wind turbines.