Transmission plans for lots of wind -- Requesting visibility

Half of an ambitious new plan by Outland Renewable Energy calls for construction of a 240-kilometre transmission line to bring as much as 3000 MW of locally owned wind power from the busy Buffalo Ridge area of south-western Minnesota to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul by 2012. The other half of the plan is for Outland to fill the wires with generation from its own wind plant.

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The Canadian province with one of the country's best wind resources but smallest loads is looking to ensure its grid is able to handle the variable output from coming wind power projects. Maritime Electric, which operates Prince Edward Island's electricity system, has issued a request for expressions of interest (RFEI) asking wind developers to submit projects for inclusion in the utility's transmission planning process.

"The goal of this planning process is to promote the efficient and orderly development of the Maritime Electric transmission system to accommodate viable wind projects," the RFEI document says. "The length of time required to complete large transmission infrastructure projects is in the order of years, therefore it is important to capture all viable projects." Transmission capacity will be allocated to developers using an open season bidding process.

Prince Edward Island, on Canada's Atlantic coast, has a wind resource that far outstrips its peak demand of about 210 MW. It currently gets about 15% of its electricity from four wind projects with a combined capacity of 52.6 MW, with the rest imported via undersea cable from New Brunswick. The island is also home to the 19.8 MW first phase of the West Cape wind project, built to sell electricity and renewable energy credits into markets in the US northeast. West Cape's 79.2 MW second phase is expected to come on line this year.

Maritime Electric believes the interest in exploiting the island's wind resource for export will continue. "The primary market for energy from these wind projects is anticipated to be off-island," the RFEI says.

It points out Prince Edward Island is the only Canadian province without substantial hydroelectric, fossil fuel or nuclear resources, meaning that wind power is "considered essential" to the future energy supply of the province. In addition to its environmental benefits, the RFEI says, wind power can provide a hedge against the increasing cost of conventional fuels and bring greater long-term price stability. It believes a "substantial component" of wind power in the province's energy future, whether used on the island or exported, will translate into jobs.

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