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Treated as utility scale technology -- Grid rules a victory for wind

When the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a December order related to the interconnection of wind farms of 20 MW and larger, it set clear standards for turbines to keep producing and supporting the grid during voltage disturbances. It also provided more evidence that wind has become a mainstream utility-scale technology.

"It's the final piece of the whole effort to standardise interconnection," says Mike Jacobs of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). "We needed to ensure that there are transparent rules all over the country. It's good for keeping costs down and smoothing the process for development. But it's also good for bringing attention to wind power on a national level."

The order articulates requirements for wind turbines to "ride-through" periods of momentary low-voltage on the network that take into account the needs at different locations on the grid and it provides minimal allowance for regional variations. It also offers a case-by-case determination of power factor requirements and allows a transition period so that wind turbines do not need to be re-engineered to comply with the requirements. The wind specific order piggybacks on a 2003 version for more traditional power generation sources.

"Because wind power is an intermittent energy source it's in a unique category," says Barbara Connors of FERC. "The commission has been looking at wind for a while," she says, referencing a FERC conference in 2004.

Now the wind industry has what it wanted. "Having this resolved in itself is an accomplishment," Jacobs says. "It's done and in the can and a victory."

Real progress

The greatest obstacle to wind power in the US has been scepticism from the various gatekeepers. "But the last 18 months have seen a lot more acceptance in bringing wind power into the mainstream," he says. "There is something of a positive trend here."

As far as big policy, he adds, the federal government has done little aside from extending the production tax credit to recognise wind power. "Otherwise, all of Washington's attention has come through FERC," he says.

FERC's wind focused activity has made a broad spectrum of people pay attention, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It is co-sponsoring an April wind power symposium in Washington, DC. "Part of what happened is that FERC got involved with topics that the engineering community thought were engineering topics," Jacobs says. "So the engineering community thought they better catch up."

The symposium, co-sponsored by AWEA and the Utility Wind Integration Group, is intended to inform a cross-section of policymakers, including regulators, legislators, government officials, economists and attorneys, of the current status and prospects for wind power. Jacobs believes it's exactly the kind of attention the US wind industry has been lacking. "When the IEEE is looking at wind power, you've pretty much made it to the mainstream. They're saying wind power is a viable thing that people shouldn't be afraid of. When you look at where wind has been over the last 30 years, you can tell we're making real progress," says Jacobs.

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