Wind energy in Alaska: wind farm take shape on Anchorage island

Anchorage’s new wind farm is set to go online by the end of September. When completed, the project, which is being developed by the Cook Inlet Region Incorporated, will provide enough electricity to power 4,000 homes along the rail belt. The transmission line that runs across the inlet is almost done. And this week crews are hoisting the first of 11 wind turbines into place.

Tall towers are rising up on Fire Island as Cook Inlet Region Inc. builds its long-talked-about wind farm. By the end of September, it is expected to be producing electricity – the first megawatt-scale wind power project in Southcentral Alaska.

Up close, the wind turbines are giants. Towers of steel 262 feet tall at the hub. Blades of fiberglass and balsa wood 131 feet long. Foundations for each poured with 340 yards of concrete reinforced with massive rebar cages. Anchor bolts 11 feet long, 140 of them per tower.

In all, CIRI is building 11 wind turbines at its Fire Island wind farm and has permits for up to 33. The long blades will rotate at 18 to 21 revolutions per minute. At the tips, they’ll be moving at 100 mph or faster.It expects to start selling the power to Chugach Electric Association starting Sept. 30. With a capacity of just under 18 megawatts, the project is expected to generate just 4 percent of the power that Chugach sells to retail customers. But it’s a landmark for renewable energy advocates.

“This particular project is important because it’s the first wind project that’s going to serve the largest city in the state,” Chris Rose, executive director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project, an advocacy group, told the Anchorage Daily News ( “Tons of people are going to see this as they fly over. They are going to start understanding that wind is a mature, commercial electric source rather than something that is on the drawing board for the future.”

Chugach now relies mainly on natural gas, and should be able save one-half billion cubic feet of gas annually, enough to power about 4,000 homes, said Ethan Schutt, CIRI’s senior vice president for land and energy development.But don’t expect cheaper power, at least at the start. Construction costs for the wind farm total about $65 million. Chugach agreed to buy the power at 9.7 cents per kilowatt hour, higher than the 6 cents per kilowatt hour Chugach pays on average, said Chugach Electric spokesman Phil Steyer.

“Initially Chugach expects that Fire Island will add a bit more than a dollar to the average residential monthly bill,” he said.