AD Header Dropdowns

AD Main Menu

Fire Island wind turbines could be adding power to Anchorage grid in weeks

Suzanna Caldwell
Wind turbines under construction on Fire Island, July 18, 2012. Phase 1 of CIRI's project comprises 11 turbines, and phase 2, if completed would bring the total to 33.
Loren Holmes photo
Hub and rotor installation at Tower 1 of the Fire Island Wind Project. July 13, 2012
Courtesy CIRI / Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz
A worker standing next to a tower section. Each turbine consists of 3 sections for a height of 262 feet. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Wind turbine components waiting to be assembled on Fire Island. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Crews use a crane to lift a Fire Island Wind turbine rotor into place on July 10, 2012. The wind turbines have a 262-foot-hub height with three 131-foot blades. All 11 turbines have been constructed and will start commercial operation in September 2012.
Courtesy CIRI / Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz
An airplane taking off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport passes over a wind turbine under construction on nearby Fire Island. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
The Fire Island Wind project’s first phase includes 11 turbines. All 11 turbines will be tested and commissioned in September 2012.
Courtesy CIRI / Judy Patrick
A Fire Island Wind turbine nacelle sits at the base of its tower on August 9, 2012. All 11 turbines have been constructed and will start commercial operation in September 2012.
Courtesy of CIRI / Joel Irwin
Fire Island wind turbines under construction on July 18, 2012. The Cook Inlet Region Inc project is on track to be completed in September 2012, providing up to 4% of Anchorage's electric needs.
Loren Holmes photo
Turbine #1 is the first fully erected wind turbine on Fire Island. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Using Alaska's largest crane, a 600-ton owned by STG, crews erect a wind turbine on Fire Island. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Close-up of the first fully erected wind turbine on Fire Island. The first phase of the project, set to be completed this fall, consists of 11 turbines. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
CIRI President and CEO Margie Brown, right, and senior vice president Ethan Schutt in front of the first fully erected wind turbine on Fire Island. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Two submarine 34.5kV power lines terminating on Fire Island. In addition to power, each cable holds a bundle of 24 fiber optic strands. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Each turbine blade measures 131 feet, and the tower itself 262 feet. CIRI purchased the largest wind turbines possible within FAA restrictions. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Workers assemble a wind turbine on Fire Island. July 18, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Mid section intallation at Tower 6 of the Fire Island Wind Project. July 13, 2012
Courtesy CIRI / Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz

Eleven wind turbines that have altered the Anchorage landscape and will soon supplement Anchorage's power supply are up and almost running on Fire Island.

As winter looms and Southcentral Alaska recovers from multiple windstorms, Fire Island Wind, a subsidiary of Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI), is in final stages of its wind power project on the 6-mile-long, uninhabited island about three miles offshore of Alaska's largest city. CIRI owns 3,600 of Fire Island's 4,000 acres.

All 11 turbines have been commissioned by Fire Island Wind, according to CIRI spokesman Jim Jager. That means every turbine has had its internal system connected and has been able to produce wind power for six consecutive hours.

"We're at the point now where the changes that are happening are not changes you can see," Jager said.

Power isn't flowing to Anchorage residents quite yet, though. CIRI is still in the final stages of commissioning the so-called SCADA system -- it allows the wind farm to communicate with Chugach Electric, which is buying the power, and vice versa -- and making sure the wind farm is ready for its final, 72-hour test drive.

If there no problems, turbine manufacturer General Electric will "hand over the keys."

"We joke that they've got that 'new turbine smell,'" said Jager, who noted that the turbines weathered the intense windstorms of the last two weeks without issues. The island saw problems typical of those found in the Anchorage Bowl, including downed trees, one of which hit one of the island's power lines.

While none of the turbines were operating during the windstorms, the turbines are designed to shut down when wind speeds reach 50 miles per hour.

Each turbine is controlled by a computer system, making any shutdown automatic. Jager said crew members will visit the island a couple of times a week throughout the year for maintenance and repairs.

Right now crews are removing construction equipment from Fire Island and finishing erosion-control projects.

Jager said CIRI is on track to start commercial power production by the end of September.

The $65 million project is expected to produce 50,000 megawatt hours of power annually -- enough to power 4,000 Southcentral Alaska households. All together, that's about 4 percent of the power Chugach produces.

CIRI entered into a purchase agreement with Chugach Electric to purchase power for $97 a megawatt hour for 25 years. That's higher than current prices -- about $60 a megawatt hour right now -- but the wind power price expected to remain consistent, while natural gas-powered energy is expected to fluctuate in price.

That contract isn't set to begin until Jan. 1, but any power produced before next year will still be sold to the Anchorage-based utility. 

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com