Commentary: Alaska needs more wind power

Catch the wind? Can do.

Fire Island, just off the western tip of Anchorage in Cook Inlet, is home to a steady supply of wind, most from the southwest and north. Cook Inlet Region Inc. is clearing land and negotiating with Railbelt utilities with an aim to make electricity from that wind and sell it at competitive prices by 2012.

Those power-purchase agreements are key to gaining private financing for part of the $162 million project -- and to securing almost $70 million in federal and state grants that will cut costs and directly benefit ratepayers.

If CIRI can conclude terms with Chugach Electric, Municipal Light and Power, Matanuska Electric Association and Golden Valley Electric Association, it's likely financing will be available to keep the project on track. Meeting the feds' schedule for construction and completion deadlines is worth about $44 million; purchase agreements also will tap about $25 million for a transmission line between the island and Chugach's facility off International Airport Road.

Hence CIRI's need for purchase agreements in place by November.

With 33 turbines, the Fire Island Wind Project will be Alaska's largest. Alaska already has seen successful wind projects in Kotzebue and other rural areas, and in Kodiak, where wind added to hydro production has saved Kodiak a fortune in diesel fuel.

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