Commentary: Fire Island wind farm project holds promise

If there's a lesson in the Fire Island wind project in progress, it's that renewable energy won't be a snap.

Right now it looks like CIRI's showcase project just off the western tip of Anchorage is a go, but at one-third of its original design. The Native regional corporation has a tentative deal with Chugach Electric Association to buy the power of 11 turbines, plus maintain a transmission line that CIRI will build.

Turbines will generate enough power to provide electricity to about 6,000 homes -- again, one third of the original estimate of 18,000. CIRI had hoped to do more, but hasn't been able to reach terms with Municipal Light & Power.

The deal with Chugach brings to mind a comment by Karen Harbert, president of the US. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy. She said there is no silver bullet for the nation's energy needs, but there is silver buckshot.

Fire Island wind counts as buckshot.

Chugach reckons the wind will provide about 3 percent to 4 percent of the utility's power. That's a modest start and a chance for the Fire Island project to prove up. CIRI spokesman Jim Jager said the goal is to have wind power to Chugach by late 2012.

Technical, political and economic challenges have slowed and complicated the work. Challenges include integrating a variable source of power into the grid, the expense of such power and the utility, city and state politics.

Wind power will be more expensive for starters. But as the costs of natural gas and coal rise, as expected, a premium price for wind today could become a bargain tomorrow -- and reasonably steady costs over 25 years is the kind of certainty economists, investors and consumers love.

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