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Wind energy project to get jumpstart funds

A $25 million dip into the Railbelt Energy Fund to help build power lines to Fire Island escaped Gov. Palin’s budget veto ax last week.

Now those funds will be used to jumpstart a wind energy project on Fire Island.

The Fire Island Wind Project has been talked about for years and could become reality soon, with Southcentral’s winds blowing through and decreasing residents’ electric bills.

“The whole goal is to help buy down the cost of power, ultimately,” said Steve Gilbert, Alaska projects manager for Enxco, which builds wind energy projects throughout the U.S.

Palin’s approval makes up less than half of the $40 million required to run transmission lines three miles from the island to the Railbelt electrical grid.

But ultimately, commercial wind power could be available in Anchorage in just about one year.

“We are all seeing and feeling the impacts of the ever-increasing costs of fossil fuel energy, and we are so dependant on it, it behooves us to start making investments for the future in relatively flat-priced energy sources,” Gilbert said.

Cook Inlet Regional Corp. owns the Fire Island property on which a potential wind farm will be constructed.

The Native corporation plans to begin aerial mapping of the site so that electricity can start flowing from the island by 2009.

And it’s just the beginning for CIRI’s renewable energy plans.

“We can look at other projects that may be smaller in scale that wouldn’t make sense by themselves, as a first project, but make a lot of sense after you’ve got a Fire Island in the portfolio,” said Ethan Schutt, CIRI’s senior vice president of land and legal affairs.

And Kodiak’s electrical utility announced it will add more wind turbines to its grid.

St. Paul Island has been harvesting wind for a decade and so too has Kotzebue, which currently is home to the largest wind farm in Alaska.

Now it seems Anchorage will be joining the rural communities to make energy out of thin air.

Gov. Palin vetoed the appropriation for Fire Island in last year’s budget, but after an energy study was completed this year, the governor allowed the money into the 2008 budget.

The Railbelt money will be administered by the newly created Alaska Energy Authority.

The Fire Island project is estimated to generate about 50 megawatts, enough to power between 16,000 and 18,000 homes for a year.

But that number could grow. As the infrastructure is put in place, it becomes cheaper to add more turbines to the system.

by Sean Doogan


30 May 2008