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Alaskan turbines roll with tides

By Katherine Sayre | Mon, 10/15/2012 - 15:52
Breakbulk Magazine - News Story

When delivering commercial-scale wind turbines to an undeveloped Alaskan island this summer, ATS International Services worked with the natural rhythm of the tides.

A 32-foot tide flux in Cook Inlet allowed workers to roll turbine components onto a vessel in a dry barge berth at the Port of Anchorage at low tide, then sail across the inlet to Fire Island at high tide.

Once there, they landed the barges as far up on the beach as possible and waited for the waters to flow out again, allowing them to drop the bow ramp and roll the components onto the island.

After nearly a dozen such trips across the inlet, Fire Island will be home to a $65 million, 11-turbine wind farm, the first commercial-scale wind project in south-central Alaska. Cook Inlet Region Inc., a native Alaskan corporation, developed the project. Turbines were expected to go online and begin generating power for 4,000 customers in September.

ATS International, an operating subsidiary of St. Cloud, Minn.-based Anderson Trucking Service, brought the 80-meter-tall towers, 40-meter-long blades and nacelles from around the world last April to the Port of Anchorage.

The most daunting task, however, was moving the massive components three miles to an island with no docks and only a few dirt roads.

Joe Goering, ATS International Services vice president, said the company has moved more than 80,000 wind components in its history, including coordinating the first shipment of turbines installed in Hawaii. Fire Island required the most planning and creative engineering, he said.

“I would rate it as one of our most successful projects, and one of the most challenging projects we’ve ever done,” Goering said.

About 3,600 of Fire Island’s 4,000 acres are owned by CIRI, a regional company whose shareholders are Alaskan natives with ties to the Cook Inlet area. The company was established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971.

The U.S. military maintained a missile command center on Fire Island during the 1950s Cold War era, said Jim Jager, a CIRI spokesman, but the troops moved off as the conflict faded. It has been largely undeveloped ever since.

The idea of building a wind farm there began when the Chugach Electric Association, Alaska’s largest electric utility, decided to diversity its energy sources. It historically had relied heavily on natural gas. The electric association has agreed to purchase Fire Island wind power from CIRI over the next 25 years. The turbines are expected to supply more than 50,000 megawatt-hours of power each year. 

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