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Nuclear trade off means more than four hundred megawatts of wind

In a stunning victory for wind, Minnesota is now expected to see at least 425 MW -- and possibly as much as 825 MW -- of wind plant installed in the state within eight years. The mandate for installed capacity, effectively a trade-off for nuclear storage casks at the controversial Prairie Island nuclear plant, took wind lobbyists by surprise. It will make Minnesota home to the second largest amount of wind power in the country, with only California boasting more megawatts.

A requirement for development of several hundred megawatts of wind in Minnesota had been expected, but 425 MW of firm installation and another 400 MW if wind is the least cost alternative was beyond what most wind lobbyists had foreseen. It is, however, disappointingly lower than the amount mandated by the House version of the bill passed a few weeks earlier -- 800 MW by the end of the century (Windpower Monthly, May 1994). The so-called NSP (Northern States Power) bill was swiftly signed into law by Gov Arne Carlson on May 10, after having been passed by the legislature on May 7. Although it is possible the law could still be derailed by those seeking to unseat the nuclear provisions, such a scenario is considered unlikely.

The signing of the bill brought to a close the hottest energy, environment and jobs issue in Minnesota in decades. The law is seen as a victory for Northern States Power (NSP), which is running out of storage space at the 20-year-old nuclear plant. Wind lobbyists applauded the legislation, although some supporters wanted more than 825 MW by the end of the decade. Environmentalists had mixed reactions because of the nuclear provisions -- there had been a strong move to completely close down the nuclear plant.

Under the law, NSP is given immediate authority to store waste fuel in five casks at Prairie Island. After December 1996, four more casks are authorised if NSP is actively seeking another place to store waste and if the utility is operating, has under construction or is contracting 100 MW of wind power. The wind power can be under a power purchase agreement, the utility can buy the equipment, or it can own and operate the plant. Eight more casks are authorised, making a total of 17, after December 31, 1998, if an additional 125 MW of wind and 50 MW of biomass are operating, under construction or contracted. NSP is then required to have an additional 200 MW of wind and 75 MW of biomass by December 31, 2002. The utility is lastly required to have an additional 400 MW of wind, bringing the total to 825 MW, by December 31, 2002, if it is the least cost fuel alternative. Re-racking of spent storage rods at Prairie Island is permitted, but if generation at the nuclear plant drops below 55% for three consecutive years, it must shut down and no more nuclear plants can be built in the state.

"It's a very effective legislative mandate to accelerate development of the industry in Minnesota," says John Dunlop of the American Wind Energy Association. "It gives Minnesota a very strong position to be a leader for new wind manufacturing facilities."

Others were slightly more reluctant to welcome the entire bill, because of the nuclear component. "Everything's a trade-off," says long time Minnesota wind man Dan Juhl, now of New World Power. "But we've been pushing for wind for a long time -- I guess I'm pleased with any development." Wind supporter, Senator Janet Johnson, however, voted against the bill, because of the nuclear provisions and because she wanted 100 MW of wind by the year 2000.

The state government's wind mandate increases by a factor of five Minnesota's future wind development," says Michael Noble of the Sustainable Resources Centre. "That's no small accomplishment." But he adds that the "horse trade" to keep Prairie Island going implies the plant has a future. He also notes that the bill finally passed is significantly less than the version passed by the House in late April, which called for 800 MW of wind by the end of the century.

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