Fire Island project gets a shot 

Anchorage Daily News editorial on Fire Island Wind: 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.

Critics have found fault with everything from the island’s difficult logistics to the federal grant — not yet certain — to help cover CIRI’s construction costs to the fickleness of the winds.

But CIRI and Chugach appear to have a deal, and the promise of progress on renewable energy next door to Alaska’s largest city is worth some risk.

As Fire Island and other projects in Alaska and around the nation have shown, the road to more renewable, cleaner energy sources won’t be smooth and straight. Fossil fuels will power much of the trip. But it’s a road we need to take.

BOTTOM LINE: Modest Fire Island wind project is encouraging.

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