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Regional transmission plans move forward

While federal government impotence on energy in America continues, wind advocates are involved in solving transmission shortcomings at regional level. The work is revealing that wind instead of gas can save on transmission and provide securer supplies

Transmission initiatives designed to shore up regional grids in the United States and provide access to local grids for wind projects are moving ahead in the Midwest, West and Texas despite faltering energy and transmission policy at federal level. Wind advocates have had a big say in how those plans move forward.

In the Midwest, they are celebrating the construction, by 2006, of a new Xcel Energy power line that will carry wind energy from Buffalo Ridge in Minnesota to the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul (Windpower Monthly, March 2003). In approving the line, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission also moved up to 2006 a requirement that Xcel buy at least 825 MW of wind energy.

Since then, Wind on the Wires, a group sponsored by the Izaak Walton League, along with the American Wind Energy Association, negotiated with the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) to include a high wind growth proposal as one of four scenarios in a $1.3 billion transmission expansion plan MISO approved in June. Included in the plan are infrastructure improvements that will accommodate load growth and new proposed generation, including wind projects. Detailed studies of the high wind scenario, which would allow for the export of about 10,000 MW of wind energy from the upper Midwest, are to be done by MISO.

Perhaps most intriguing is an effort, still in its infancy, that would pair the export of new coal generation with wind generation out of North Dakota. The state's coal reserves and its potential wind capacity are both located in the same remote areas, which are already exporting excess electricity to the extent there is no more transmission capacity available.

"We're working with a group in North Dakota exploring the idea of a coal/wind mix of energy coming out of the state," says Bill Grant of the Izaak Walton League. "We're at the front end of these conversations and, at this point, we're not sure where they're going."

One of his largest concerns is about the coupling of coal with wind. He says that "our goal is to achieve at least a net environmental impact and that will require a robust amount of wind" to mix with the coal generation.

Texas projects

To the south, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), an independent system operator that oversees transmission in 85% of the state, says transmission constraints are costing consumers as much as $238 million each year. In a report released last month, ERCOT says it expects about 5500 MW in new generation to be added to its system by 2006, much of it due to a growing demand for electricity. About 1000 MW will come from the "elevated" production of electricity from wind resources. Wind power generation in Texas grew by 900 MW in 2001 alone, but has stalled due to transmission constraints in West Texas (Windpower Monthly, May 2003).

Two transmission projects to move energy out of the West Texas wind fields have been completed and ERCOT says it has two more projects ready to go and another two in planning. All four are needed if wind developers hope to meet the state's stiff renewables portfolio standard requirement of 2000 MW of renewable energy by 2009 (Windpower Monthly, December 2001).

Early next year, a group of conservationists led by Ron Lehr of Western Resource Advocates, formerly Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, will present a clean energy plan for seven interior western states to the Western Governors Association. The plan will call on the states to increase renewables in the mix of generation from 1% in 2001 to 20% by 2020, far more than the 2% in 2020 if the region lopes along in business-as-usual mode. The group will also argue that their plan is less expensive and requires fewer transmission upgrades than does the business-as-usual future involving mostly gas.

"We used the standard modelling tools and assumptions that utilities use, but we came up with an aggressive renewable and energy efficiency plan," Lehr says. He adds that the clean plan is a result of a request from Western governors that said transmission planning in the region needs more work and that renewables and energy efficiency need to be accounted for.

REVERSING THE GAS TREND

Since 2000, about 21,000 MW of new generating capacity has come online in the region, nearly all from gas turbines. If adopted by the governors, the clean plan would reverse that trend through aggressive energy efficiency and a huge build-up of wind generation, and it would retire old and dirty power plants.

The plan identifies 9230 MW of wind resources and the transmission that would be needed to get those resources to load centres. Much of that resource is found in the three wind rich states of Colorado, Montana and Wyoming, and would required the addition of about 8500 MW of new transmission capacity. That is still better, however, than the business-as-usual scenario, which would require 10,000 MW of new transmission capacity. If only wind resources close to load centres are developed, 2800 MW of transmission capacity would have to be added.

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