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State OKs Eva Creek wind farm near Healy

FAIRBANKS – The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has given preliminary approval to a large-scale wind farm near Healy, despite the objections of a competitor in the wind-power business.

The DNR preliminary approval is the latest step forward for the Eva Creek project, a 24.6-megawatt turbine farm envisioned by Golden Valley Electric Association near Healy. The GVEA board of directors unanimously voted in favor of Eva Creek in June, advancing a 16-turbine project that will become the largest wind farm in Alaska if it’s developed.

GVEA President Brian Newton said that unless any new complications emerge in the next month, the state is on pace to give final approval in late August or early September. GVEA hopes to launch the project in September 2012.

“We’re not anticipating any problems,” Newton said.

DNR approval is needed for the Eva Creek project because it requires development on and around state land. A 43-acre lease for turbines and support facilities is needed, along with permission for road construction and upgrades to the site.

The lease process has raised objections from CIRI, the regional Native corporation developing its own wind farm on Fire Island near Anchorage. CIRI had offered to supply wind-power energy to GVEA, but the board chose the utility’s own Eva Creek project in February.

In a Jan. 29 letter, CIRI asked the state to reject the GVEA lease application, saying the Eva Creek site should be opened to a competitive bidding process. The state has negotiated lease terms directly with GVEA, using a provision that allows public utilities to avoid the bidding process if it “reasonably requires the land for the conduct of its business under its license.”

Ethan Schutt, the CIRI senior vice president of land and energy development, argued in the letter that a wind farm doesn’t fall under the category of a “necessary” project for a public utility. If Eva Creek were opened to a public bidding process, he said CIRI would be interested in pursuing the property.

DNR is still receiving public comments on Eva Creek until Aug. 15. CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said the corporation is still evaluating whether it will offer a formal public comment on the project.