Alex Gimarc: Wind energy in the Railbelt — does it make sense?



(This is the third in a series on Chugach Electric Association’s new dalliance with renewable energy.  The second column discussed solar energy in the Railbelt.)

Today, we will take a short look at wind energy in the Railbelt, keeping Chugach’s proposed 122-megawatt wind farm west of Mount Susitna in mind.

The US Energy Information Administration describes wind energy generation in Alaska as providing around 7% of Alaska’s renewable generation from 60 megawatt of utility-scale generation located mostly in the Railbelt and along the southern and western coasts. Wind-diesel hybrid systems are increasingly popular in rural communities off the main grid.

The largest wind farm in the state is Eva Creek, 24.6 megawatt installed near Healy, operated by Golden Valley Electric Association. It went into service in Oct 2012. Rationale by GVEA for the project was to help GVEA meet its Renewable Energy Pledge. More on those sorts of pledges in my next piece.  

Here in Anchorage, Chugach Electric Association entered into a power sales agreement with Cook Inlet Regional, Inc. to purchase electricity from CIRI’s 17.6 MW wind farm on Fire Island. Chugach maintains a Fire Island Wind web page. CIRI’s Fire Island Wind, LLC subsidiary also maintains a web page with details on the project.

Costs are most important, as electricity from Fire Island is on average 1.7 times the cost (9.7¢/kWh for wind compared to 5.5 – 6.0¢/kWh for everything else).  It produces perhaps 3% of Chugach’s retail load, meaning its current impact on our electric bills is small. However, when you increase that percentage, by definition, monthly electric bills will increase. The more wind generators, the larger the increase in monthly bills. Note that this is all before we have any discussion about the impact of intermittent generation on the stability of the grid.  

Like solar, wind is also intermittent, though a better overall performer. In 2022, Fire Island produced on average 35% of its rated capacity. Turns out that Fire Island is a good place to install a wind farm. There was a proposed Phase II that would have installed another 11-22 turbines that ended up being not sufficiently economic to pursue.  

Gathering information for this post was an interesting journey. Julie Haskett at Chugach was most helpful, as was Matt Perkins at Alaska Renewables. CIRI, the owner / operator of Fire Island Wind was unresponsive to the point that published e-mail addresses bounced internally.  

There are several outstanding questions that someone needs to address:

1. No data on failures of Fire Island turbines over the last decade.

2. Actual operational time for wind turbines tend to be shorter than planned operational time (20 – 30 years) or operational lifetime loans are based upon (20 years).  No actual data on these lifetimes either.

3. How will these be retired? What happens to the blades and turbines? Texas Monthly ran an August 2023 piece on a wind turbine graveyard in Sweetwater, Texas as an appropriately hair-raising cautionary tale.  

4. One commenter in my first article noted that the proposed site of CEA’s new large wind farm is uncomfortably close to a pair of state game refuges with avian migration routes and nesting areas. There are aviation restrictions near these refuges.  What impact will the proposed large wind farm have on bird populations? Better yet, what impact has Fire Island had over the last decade?

5. Final question is what happens when the $16.79/MWh federal subsidy for wind changes? 

Like we discussed last month, if we choose to plop down a wind farm of the size necessary for utility-level generation requirements, we will consume massive amounts of land in the MatSu. How much? That is a highly variable number, ranging from 20 – 50 km2 for a proposed 122-megawatt wind farm. 

Once again, we are back to local opposition to the proposed West Susitna Access Road. If you build something this big, you are going to need access to it.  

We are back to many of the same conclusions we drew last month about solar:  

While wind performance is better than solar, it is still highly variable. The more variability you introduce into the grid, the more instability you also introduce. Once again, wind does not come with any sort of storage. How much instability can we stand?

Wind farms use a lot of land. We are looking at tens of square kilometers necessary for Chugach’s proposed wind farm.

CIRI has been remarkably tight lipped when asked about data on their installation. Advocates and CEA were most helpful. My experience is when someone is not answering questions, this means they are hiding something, lying by omission to the public.

Finally, wind has known negative impact on bird populations. There is no interest at any governmental level or from the Usual Suspects in Big Green in what those impacts may be. It must be nice to advocate an energy generation technique that does not trigger any environmental scrutiny.    

Yes, we can do Big Wind, but at what cost? Cost to the environment? Cost to bird populations? Increased electric costs to rate payers? Costs of increasing grid instability including blackouts (rolling and otherwise)? At what point does the cost-benefit analysis tell us to do something else? 

We will never answer that question unless you actually do one, with all the costs publicly addressed in an open and comprehensive manner. 

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.


  1. Do you know wind farms are allowed to kill 4200 bald eagles per year? That besides the millions of birds they kill each year they are quite obviously contributing to the death of countless whales? That any living creature near by are driven batty by the sickening drone that they emit? Besides being built by the Chinese and not recyclable at all? I passed a wind farm in Texas this year and they had a MASSIVE pile of broken and unserviceable blades. Several acres worth.

    Wind farms are NOT green or earth friendly!

    • A photo of that Texas scene of piled up broken propellers would had been good for us to see here through MRAk’s publication of it. Next time you are in Texas, take a picture of it yo share with us. Thank you.

  2. Well stated, Alex. When questions aren’t answered, we should be suspect.
    But spending other people’s money is always easier if they don’t ask questions. Keep asking questions.
    If something is so good that you need to use other people’s money without permission, maybe it’s not so good.

  3. Today BP stated that the US wind market is broken.
    Orsted announced it is abandoning 2 projects in NJ, recorded a $4bn writedown and its stock dropped 26%.
    Higher material costs, supply chain issues and higher interest rates are to blame.
    So we can expect proponents to ask for even more subsidies. Wind has always been about the tax credits.

    • We have been subsidizing fossil fuels for decades. The United States provides a number of tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry as a means of encouraging domestic energy production. These include both direct subsidies to corporations, as well as other tax benefits to the fossil fuel industry.

      Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil.

      European Union subsidies are estimated to total 55 billion euros annually.

      • Sigh. As with all other poisons, the dose makes all the difference. Here are the actual numbers for energy subsidies per MWh. Source for all these is listed above. Cheers –


        – Subsidy for Hydro – $0/40/MWh
        – Subsidy for Fossil fuels – $1.03/MWh
        – Subsidy for nukes – $1.21/MWh
        – Subsidy for Wind / Biomass / Geothermal – $16.79 – 17.93/MWh
        – Subsidy for Solar – $68.67/MWh

        As usual, the free stuff is the very most expensive. Cheers –



      • Oh… wow… $20B a year.
        For an industry that, in 2022, had total revenue of $332,874,000,000. For the math challenged that is 332 BILLION. Doing a quick math here…. that makes the subsidies about 6% of the total revenue.
        Do the same analysis for your green energy. Tell me what percentage of their subsidies is government subsidies.
        Until then, your stat is a curiosity, numbers without context. In other words, meaningless.

        • I only pointed out the direct subsidies. Indirect subsidies are much larger. We have been “giving” huge amounts to the fossil fuel industry for decades and decades. Our burning of fossil fuels is also responsible for global warming. Give renewables the same chances we gave fossil fuels. It is a much better way to power our country.

          • How much larger are the indirect subsidies?
            What percentage of gross revenues do they represent?
            Once again, you spout numbers without context, making them meaningless curiosities at best.
            And global warming is over. It is climate change now.

      • Oil and gas subsidize government, of all levels. Oil is taxed before it can be explored, it is taxed when it is pumped, it is taxed when it is transported, it is taxed when it is stored, it is taxed when it is processed, it is taxed when it is sold, it is taxed when it is used, it is the single most taxed product on the face of the earth.

  4. The answer to this wind power conundrum is obvious: install the wind turbines in the Anchorage Ass-embly chambers, where there is consistently enough (hot) wind being blown to fuel a medium-sized nation. Just make sure that the wind turbines can spin to the left.

  5. I live in Iowa. 62% of the electricity used in Iowa in 2022 was generated from wind power. Iowa electricity rates are 30% LOWER than the national average. I am suspicious of the lack of actual numbers and/or statistics in this article. It is also ridiculous that wind proponents have not studied the effects on birds, that is very old disinformation. Sad.

    • Per Orwell in Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others. In the Green Nude Eel world, some generation is more equal than others. Wind turbine negative impact on birds is sadly well known and completely ignored by the feds and Big Green. More recent negative impact on whales and dolphins due to sonar surveys for offshore wind are washing up hundreds of whales and dolphins on the mid-Atlantic / New England coastline. The good news is that it is at least not offshore drilling (/sarc). Cheers –

    • “Toddler” is a very appropriate moniker for you. That’s about how much sense you are making. And you live in Iowa and come onto an Alaskan news source to tell us how wrong we are? Sorry, not sorry, but you need to do a LOT more research. My daughter lives in WA and she has shown me RECENT pictures of bird kill. It is wishful thinking that the “Greenie Agenda” is actually legitimate and will save us all.

    • “I live in Iowa. 62% of the electricity used in Iowa in 2022 was generated from wind power.”
      You owe me a new BS meter.
      That line alone made the needle hit the stop so hard it broke completely off.
      Provide your source.

  6. Great expose’ Alex, the ‘great green’ transformation is nothing but a huge leftist boondoggle, being proven at every turn.

  7. Who is lying?. Wind advocates say wind generates at one third the cost yet Fire Island generates at higher cost than the rest of the power grid. So who wears the liars crown?

  8. I only care about how much it’s going to cost me. I don’t care about anything else.

    Notably, “There was a proposed Phase II that would have installed another 11-22 turbines that ended up being not sufficiently economic to pursue.” So, CEA is going to pursue it anyway and at great cost to customers.

    Only dumb people fall into the “save money or save the environment through green energy” trap. With subsidies and hidden costs, you can make anything appear to be a good, economical idea even if it isn’t close

    • Old saying:
      It is a luxury of a wealthy nation to care about the environment.
      As soon as that nation places caring about the environment before maintaining and building that wealth they will lose both.

  9. What gets me with all this wind and solar generation is…where do we dispose of all of the broken or non-usable equipment? I never hear any conversation about disposing of all of the toxic waste and metals. Wind and solar energy are being shut down in many countries across the world, but not in the US! Apparently, the US-including our own governor-have not reduced the population enough for their masters’ approval.

  10. Squandering our money in huge amounts and running up debt is part of the plan to destroy this country. But BRING HOME THE BACON!

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