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Hefty premium in North Dakota

Minnkota Power Co-operative, a generation and transmission co-operative in eastern North Dakota and north western Minnesota, is offering its member utilities the chance to sell wind generated power at a hefty premium. Already, nine of the 12 member co-ops are participating in the program, with 99 customers signed up. Minnkota has printed 65,000 marketing brochures for their member co-ops to send to their 100,000 retail customers.

President and CEO of the co-operative Dave Loer announced Minnkota's "Infinity Wind Energy" plan at a November conference on wind power in Grand Forks organised by Senator Byron Dorgan and the Department of Energy (DOE). Minnkota will buy the power from a developer and sell it in blocks of 100 kWh. It expects to charge a premium of $0.06/kWh above normal rates, but now that the production tax credit has been extended, the premium is likely to be less. Loer said that Minnkota had a verbal quote from Foras Energy for wind power at $0.07/kWh. The size of the wind project will depend on the response from customers. Minnkota plans to build the first wind turbine when it receives commitments for 1200 to 1500 blocks of power.

Minnkota's only source of power currently is lignite coal, burned at mine-mouth plants in central North Dakota. The state's Lignite Energy Council, of which Minnkota is a member, has been seen as a staunch opponent of wind power in the past. North Dakota has been identified by DOE as the windiest state in the country, yet has almost no wind power development.

According to Bruce Imsdahl of Montana-Dakota Utilities, the other main generation co-op in the state, his company has also studied wind power. "We concluded it would not be a wise investment for us," he said at the conference. "If it weren't competing with lignite, it would have been more competitive," he added. "I'm sure technology will improve greatly in the next decade," he continued. "If the cost comes down twenty to forty percent, wind will be a generation technology of choice for utilities like ours."

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