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United States

Turning point for transmission rules -- Proposal better but still not perfect

New transmission regulations proposed by the United States Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) in late January are set to give wind power generators more equitable access to the US electrical grid. "It really is a turning point in the recognition about wind," says Mike Jacobs of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). "FERC's enthusiasm for bringing wind online is clear."

The decision by FERC to include wind power in its interconnection standards demonstrates a new recognition of the mainstream nature of wind power, says Jacobs. "For so long, wind was either viewed as either too small to be a real contributor or too unreliable to be allowed to be a contributor. We're at the stage with these proposed regulations where the first assumption is no longer valid, so it's important to address the reliability concerns."

The proposed regulations, however, which are for wind plant of 20 MW and over, still leave some issues unresolved -- and that has AWEA worried. FERC originally issued regulations last year for connecting fossil fuel generation to the electrical grid, but the section on rules for integrating wind generation was left open for wind industry comment. At that time, AWEA, which has been working on the issue for about two years, proposed language for wind integration. FERC, however, has incorporated only a part into its proposal.

While the regulations are generally positive for the wind industry, says Jacobs, they leave three areas of concern: lack of a provision for a phase-in of the stipulation that wind plant must be able to ride-through voltage dips on the network; FERC's apparent rejection of a proposal to reduce required detail in initial interconnectivity studies; and a clarification of SCADA (Supervisory Command and Data Acquisition) requirements.

Uncertainty

Low voltage ride-through is a technical capability that enables turbines to remain online during a loss of voltage. Jacobs says that AWEA generally supports requiring new wind turbines to have this capacity, but the proposed FERC regulations do not allow for the requirement to be phased in. That affects 2005 projects, many of which have already ordered turbines that do not have the required capability. "That is cause for considerable caution," says Jacobs. "We're caught between policies that promote construction this year and the proposed FERC requirements."

The FERC regulations also require that initial interconnectivity studies by wind developers be at the highest level of detail, requiring such things as precise siting of wind turbines and turbine types, which are variables that typically are not decided until later in a project. AWEA wants FERC allow the initial studies to be less detailed, says Jacobs.

The association, he says, will also seek to clarify a FERC requirement that wind farms be able to remotely "communicate." AWEA's concern is to clarify whether that means the wind project would be able to simply receive communication or be required to follow instructions from a regulator to power down. Jacobs says that AWEA's position is that any instruction to reduce output is a contractual issue between the generator and the holder of the power purchase agreement. He notes that although fossil fuel plants can more easily power down, asking a wind plant to power down is similar to requiring a nuclear power plant to shut off when the power is not needed.

FERC is taking comments on the proposed regulations (Order 2003-A) until early this month. Final regulations are expected to be issued after the comment period.

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