Largest Wind Farm in Alaska Moving Forward

Dec. 30, 2011

The 11-turbine, commercial-scale wind farm now under construction on Fire Island—three miles west of Anchorage, Alaska—is the product of many organizations’ efforts, including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NREL.

Representing DOE's Integrated Deployment and Wind Powering America programs, NREL provided technical assistance and facilitation that helped re-invigorate the 17.6 megawatt (MW) Fire Island Wind Project. When completed, the project will be the largest wind farm in Alaska and is expected to supply 51,000 MW-hours (MWh) of power annually to the Chugach Electric Association (Chugach).

NREL has been engaged in the project for more than 10 years. About a year ago, the project stalled and NREL facilitated a three-day dialog between Chugach; Fire Island Wind, LLC; consumer groups; vendors; and others to get the project and other wind prospects moving again. Following the three-day dialog, NREL was able to draw extensively from their past work in Hawaii on integrating wind in a complex, isolated grid, to demonstrate techniques and methods that were useful in predicting impacts from variable wind output. The types of variables and impacts identified by NREL played a crucial role in determining the value of the wind resource and the stability needs of the overall power grid for the Fire Island Wind Project.

In October 2011, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska approved a power purchase agreement (PPA) between Chugach (Alaska’s largest electric utility) and Fire Island Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of Cook Inlet Region, Inc, an Alaska Native Regional Corporation. Approval of the PPA was the final hurdle to the decade-long negotiation, thus allowing onsite construction to resume. According to the PPA, Chugach will purchase power at a flat price of $97/MW-hour for 25 years beginning January 1, 2013.

The Fire Island Wind Project is an important step for moving Alaska away from its dependence on natural gas. Currently, utilities in Southcentral Alaska rely on natural gas for about 90% of their electric power generation and space heating needs. The Fire Island Wind Project, which will be built, owned, and operated by Alaskans, is expected to:

  • Generate electricity for approximately 6,000 Southcentral Alaskan households
  • Offset about 4% of Chugach’s natural gas consumption annually, or 0.5 billion cubic feet
  • Diversify the fuel mix, and reduce peak demand on the dwindling natural gas supply in Southcentral Alaska
  • Stabilize retail rates of electricity by providing a flat-cost for wind energy for 25 years.

The first phase of the project, consisting of 11 wind turbines, mainland and submarine transmission lines (to reach Anchorage), substations, and related infrastructure, will cost approximately $65 million. Fire Island Wind, LLC expects the project to qualify for approximately $19 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Section 1603 investment tax credits, while $25 million for the submarine and mainland transmission infrastructure has already been committed by the state of Alaska.

Currently, clearing work has begun for the mainland transmission lines. On-island wind turbine infrastructure construction and submarine/mainland transmission system installation is expected during spring 2012, with project commissioning and commercial operation slated to begin in fall 2012.

Fire Island Wind, LLC has noted that it is prepared to build-out the site to 33 turbines with 52.8 MW total generation capacity—enough to generate 144,000 MWh of power annually—if additional buyers want to purchase wind power and/or demand increases. Additionally, the submarine cable is being designed to allow for future connection to a proposed tidal energy project being permitted right off the coast of Fire Island, potentially adding even more clean energy to Southcentral Alaska’s portfolio.

Learn more about NREL’s activities in Alaska.

—Devin Egan