United States

United States

Prospects improve for Buffalo Ridge

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A new appeals court ruling in Minnesota seems to boost the chances of utility Northern States Power (NSP) having to build or buy another 400 MW of installed wind capacity. On May 19, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the state Public Utilities Commission's implementation of a 1993 state law requiring that environmental factors are included when weighing options for new power plants.

The decision is a blow to the various utilities, including NSP, as well as to the two coal associations that had asked the court to reconsider the matter. Using the group name "Partners for Affordable Energy," NSP and its pro-coal allies in the Minnesota region argue generally that "coal based power is a low cost and environmentally compatible" energy course. Including "externalities," says the group, is an attempt to penalise coal.

The court ruling comes just as the fight over an additional 400 MW of wind in Minnesota is escalating. In 1994, the state's Prairie Island law mandated NSP to build or buy 425 MW of wind by December 31, 2002 -- much of which is currently under construction on Buffalo Ridge -- in return for the utility being allowed to store nuclear waste on Prairie Island. But the law also included a "resource planning mandate," a provision that requires an additional 400 MW of wind also by the end of 2002 -- but only if wind is the least cost option and if it fits with the state's resource planning requirements.

It came as no surprise to local environmentalists, when NSP filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with state regulators on January 6, that the utility vehemently argued against the extra 400 MW of wind. And since July 6 is the deadline for comments on the utility's 1998-2012 Resource Plan, wind proponents have been busy. "We're in the process of analysing their data," says Bill Grant of the Izaak Walton League's Midwest Office, part of the "Environmental Coalition" pushing for the 400 MW. NSP is arguing that wind is not the least cost option and that it impairs system reliability (Windpower Monthly, April 1998).

For the next two months, following the July 6 deadline, NSP may reply to comments. It is then up to the PUC to issue a final decision, something that it may take months to do. Be that as it may, the first 425 MW of NSP's mandated wind is well under way. Phase I was the 25 MW of Kenetech 33 MVS turbines completed in 1994. Phases II and III are Enron's Lake Benton projects of Zond turbines, 107 MW and 103.5 MW respectively. Phase II is currently under construction. And the power purchase contract for Phase III was just signed in April.

Smaller projects

There are also three smaller projects under way -- consisting of just over 33 MW in total -- that will supply power to NSP and which are part of the mandated 425 MW.

Construction is to start by August 1 on two Northern Alternative Energy (NAE) projects near Lake Shaokatan, says the firm's Michelle Rogers. One, dubbed "NEG Micon 11.25 MW project," will consist of 15 NEG Micon 750 kW turbines. The other, known as the "Vestas 11.88 MW project," will use 18 V47 650 kW wind turbines.

Less information was immediately available about the third small project, 10.2 MW of Vestas to be located in Woodstock, Minnesota and involving long time industry member Dan Juhl.

The balance of the 425 MW of NSP's mandated wind, just over 156 MW, has yet to be solicited. But utility officials have said on several occasions that it will be solicited as a single Phase IV and that the Request for Proposals will be issued by the end of the year.

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