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United States

Wind power changing the future of utility policy

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Wind power is leading the way toward changing the way US utilities plan for the future, according to a recent report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The report, Balancing Cost and Risk: The Treatment of Renewable Energy in Western Utility Resource Plans, examines how 12 utilities treat renewables in recent integrated resource planning (IRP). The IRP process has led the utilities to call for 8000 MW more of renewable generating capacity by 2014. Report authors Mark Bolinger and Ryan Wiser detail specific cost and performance assumptions made by the utilities, which supply roughly half the electricity demand in the western US. The authors suggest that IRP is becoming increasingly important as a driver of new renewable generation. Improving economics for renewables and an increasing recognition of the inherent risks in fossil-based generation are cited as major reasons for the change. Wind power is recognised as the primary source of the planned additions. "It's good to remember that these are just plans," Bolinger says. "Whether they turn into reality remains to be seen." PacifiCorp's IRP calls for 1420 MW of new wind power by 2014. "We're already on our way to getting some of those projects done," says Virinder Singh from the Portland, Oregon-based utility. "But there are a lot of intervening factors between now and 2014 and we have to be mindful of the real-time market out there. For one thing, the price of turbines has gone up in recent years."

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