Meeting Southcentral's Energy Demands

The energy market and fuel availability in southcentral is changing rapidly and utilities are looking at the possibility of importing natural gas.


by Megan Mazurek

ANCHORAGE - The energy market and fuel availability in southcentral is changing rapidly and utilities are looking at the possibility of importing natural gas.
Renewable energy is looking ever more economically favorable now and even more so in the not too distant future.
"The wind power looks competitive if not attractive," said Ethan Schutt, Senior VP, CIRI Land and Energy.
Fire Island Wind Project on Fire Island broke barriers as the first commercially sold electric wind project in Alaska.
Chugach Electric Association began buying power from the 11 turbines in late August, the power is meeting about 4 percent of the needs of Chugach's retails customers.
"The challenge is always to find project that makes economic sense to customers," said Phil Steyer, spokesperson, Chugach Electric Association. "It's harder to do than it is to say."
Planning, permitting and developing took more than 10 years and the island itself has no developed port or any kind of infrastructure.
"We did what Alaskans do," Schutt said. "We figured out a way to land the equipment on the beach with a landing craft style barge rolled it onto trailers onto undeveloped beach."
That beach is in the Cook Inlet, an area that's been tapped for natural gas and provided Alaskans their electricity and heat for the past 30 plus years. Production is declining and long term gas supply is questionable. Utilities are looking for alternatives that may have them digging further in their pockets.
"The reality is setting in right now with the utility leadership about what the energy natural gas in particular is going to cost in this basin,"
Schutt said.
Slowly, companies are diversifying their portfolio with an overall goal in mind. "Frankly, what we're interested in is trying to reduce our reliance our over reliance on a single generation fuel," Steyer said.
" I think it does make sense to have a diversified portfolio," said Mayor Dan Sullivan, Anchorage. "Chugach Electric also used alternative methods, Bradley Lake and smaller projects they've also been working on."
The project also breaks ground as the first large scale independent producer project, it's a common partnership seen in the lower 48 but very uncommon in Alaska.
"As far as spear heading for later projects in the state and the rail belt I think it also shows people including utilities an IPP driven project can work for everyone it can be a good deal for the utilities."
A good deal, that some may not be able to pass up in the near future, certainly when the price is right.
Fire Island Wind does have the ability to build 22 more turbines on the island, if additional buyers agree to purchase wind power.

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