02/10/2011 12:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fire Island wind project pushed in Anchorage

The Fire Island wind project got a big boost from the Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night when it ordered the city's electric utility to formally pursue a contract for the power.

The wind farm is being built by Cook Inlet Region Inc. on the island, three miles west of Anchorage, but has been stalled because CIRI needs someone to agree to buy the power before it can obtain financing to finish building it. The current $146 million project is envisioned to have 22 turbines -- essentially those slender windmill-looking contraptions -- each standing about 375 feet tall. It was recently scaled back from a 33-turbine project.

The unanimous Assembly action doesn't necessarily mean Anchorage Municipal Light & Power will buy electricity from the project. It simply directs ML&P to sit down and craft a contract with the Native corporation to see if the project would be an economically viable option for the city, said Assemblyman Bill Starr, who sponsored the resolution.

CIRI has been trying to interest local utilities in buying the wind power, but the utilities have been reluctant to negotiate because they believe the cost will be too great or the wind farm won't produce enough power to help offset declining natural gas generation.

"I've only heard that it doesn't make economic sense or that it doesn't pencil out," Starr said Wednesday, adding that he wants to see a formal written agreement with costs and other factors. "I want to see a power purchase agreement. If it doesn't pencil out, let us (the Assembly) decide that."

Starr said a wind farm makes sense because it takes the load off the current natural gas supply, which is going up in cost, and it could free up gas for heating and other uses. He noted that if ML&P is considering importing liquefied natural gas from foreign shippers to keep the lights on in Anchorage, then it should be looking at the CIRI wind project, too.

ML& P officials did not immediately return calls for comment for this story. ...

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