Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 12:27 PM on Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wind power soon to be generated at Fire Island, Eva Creek



By Tim Bradner
Morris News Service - Alaska

The new Fire Island 17.6 megawatt wind power project developed by Cook Inlet Region Inc. will be generating power soon.

A72-hour test of the facility was expected to be completed this week.

"After that, the contractors turn the keys over to us," CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said.

Meanwhile, a second wind power project will be supplying electricity to the Southcentral–Interior Alaska "railbelt" power grid in late October.

It is Golden Valley Electric Association's Eva Creek project, which has 12 turbines with a capacity of 25 megawatts. Eva Creek is near Healy, between Anchorage and Fairbanks on the Parks Highway.

Fairbanks-based Golden Valley, the electric cooperative serving Interior Alaska, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Eva Creek with state and local officials in late August.

Golden Valley will use Eva Creek power in its own system, while CIRI will sell power from Fire Island to Chugach Electric Association.

Fire Island is in Cook Inlet just offshore from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

CIRI owns most of the land on Fire Island and developed the wind project with a first-phase cost of $65 million. The project was intended to be larger but was scaled back to 11 turbines in a first phase to allow for the variable wind power to be efficiently integrated into Chugach's system.

The state of Alaska contributed $20 million to the project to pay for submarine cables connecting the island to the mainland, and for the connections to Chugach's power grid. The total cost, including both the CIRI and state investment, is $85 million.

Golden Valley is developing Eva Creek for about $95 million, which includes $10 million contributed by the state to help pay for site access and other infrastructure. Golden Valley had to build a 10-mile road to the site from Mile Post 260 on the Parks Highway 14 miles north of Healy.

Eva Creek is coming on line at a good time for Golden Valley. The co-op is having to raise its rates 6 percent because of an 11 percent increase in fuel costs, mostly for oil and naphtha used at Golden Valley's 120 megawatt generating plant at North Pole, east of Fairbanks.

Wind power won't result in lower rates but will help dampen possible future increases in oil costs, Golden Valley has said in the past. The Fairbanks utility has a goal of generating 20 percent of its power needs from renewable energy by 2014.

Eva Creek is expected to generate about 76,700 megawatt/hours of electricity annually, while Fire Island is expected to produce about 50,000 megawatt/hours per year.

Jager, of CIRI, said wind storms like Anchorage experienced the night of Sept. 4 are not really good for wind projects.

When wind speeds exceed 55 miles per hour, wind project operators must close the system down or the turbines can become destabilized and risk damage, he said.

"Our optimum wind speed for power generation is about 42 miles per hour. We can start making power at wind speeds of 7 to 9 miles per hour," he said.

Wind speeds are expected to be strongest at the Fire Island site during December, which generally coincides with Chugach Electric's winter peak demand for power

Tim Bradner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

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