Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Growing pains for year-old Fire Island wind farm project

Wind turbines on Fire Island. Based on a successful first year with 11 initial turbines, CIRI wants to add 11 more turbines by October 2015.
It's been just over one year since turbines at the Fire Island Wind began producing energy from the breeze, and so far, they're doing exactly what they were built to do.
As of last week, the turbines have produced a collective 51,800 megawatt hours of energy -- just slightly above the project's goal of 51,000 hours -- and enough electricity to power 4,000 Southcentral Alaska homes, according to Suzanne Gibson, vice president for Fire Island Wind.
“It's exactly in line with our expectations,” she said Wednesday.
The 11 turbines that make up the project are part of the Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI) subsidiary's plan to develop power on the the six-mile-long uninhabited island located three miles off of the shores of Anchorage. CIRI, one of 13 Alaska Native regional corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, owns 3,600 of the island's 4,000 acres.
The wind project is one of a handful of independent power producers in Alaska, and by far the largest electric project not owned and operated by a public utility. But 11 turbines are just the beginning. Gibson said this week crews will begin “phase 2” on the island, starting work on some early land clearing before too much snow falls, clearing pads and access roads to add 11 more turbines to island.
Gibson said the plan is to finish the additional wind turbines by October 2015. It is expected to cost the company about $45 million.
By starting construction this week, CIRI will be able to take advantage of a investment tax credit offered by the federal government that will only be available through the end of 2013. The credit could provide up to $15 million in savings, Gibson said. That cost savings will equate to cheaper electricity available for whichever utilities decide to purchase it.
The 11 current turbines are capable of producing 17.6 megawatt hours. The additional turbines will increase that to 35 megawatt hours, essentially doubling the yearly output, or enough to power an additional 4,000 homes. The island is permitted for 33 turbines, adding up to a possible 53 megawatt hours of power production.
The first 11 turbines provide an estimated 4 percent of the total power used by Chugach Electric Association, the state's largest electric utility. Since Chugach began purchasing power from the wind operation in August 2012, it has taken in 49,756 megawatt hours.
There have been no major integration issues in bringing the wind power into the rest of the system, though power generation was curtailed 50 to 100 times in the last year according to Chugach spokesman Phil Steyer. Curtailment, or wind “spillage” is a power integration tool that occurs when too much wind makes turbines produce more power than the grid can accommodate.
CIRI entered into a purchase agreement with Chugach Electric to purchase power for $97 per megawatt hour for 25 years. That's higher than current prices -- about $60 a megawatt hour right now -- but proponents of wind power note that the price is expected to remain consistent, while the cost of natural gas-powered energy is expected to fluctuate.
Steyer refused to comment on any potential power sale. CIRI spokesman Jason Moore also said that building the additional wind farms is dependent on securing a purchase agreement that will outline the sale of any potential power. Over the next year, CIRI will be working with other electric utilities in the state to come to an agreement.