United States

United States

Minnesota commissioners rule for 400 MW more

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In a major victory for renewable energy campaigners in the American Midwest, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ruled last month that Northern States Power (NSP) must develop 400 MW of wind power in addition to the 425 MW it is already mandated to build. The PUC's decision endorses wind power as a cost effective alternative to fossil fuel generation and consequently of benefit to the public.

The utility must acquire the wind power by no later than 2012, says Bill Grant, director of the Midwest office of the Izaac Walton League of America. "We think this is a big step forward for wind power and for clean renewable energy in the state of Minnesota," he says. In making the unanimous ruling, the PUC rejected NSP's own analysis of resource options for more power capacity and found that the development of an additional 400 MW of wind "is in the public interest under a least cost planning and resource planning analysis."

It is still unclear how and when NSP will meet the new requirement, notes Grant. The Public Utility Commission (PUC) says it wants to see wind included in the next all-source Request For Proposals issued by NSP. But that idea was not supported by renewables advocates. "We thought wind would not likely emerge as one of the winners in an all-source bid. If that happens, we'd have to revert to the mandate," Grant says.

The PUC ruling was made in the wake of a 1994 state law allowing NSP to store nuclear waste near one of its nuclear power plants if the utility committed to investing in plants fuelled by wind and biomass. Under the law, NSP is already required to acquire 425 MW of wind power -- a mandate the utility is in the process of meeting with major wind power development (Windpower Monthly, October 1998). It is currently buying 132 MW of wind power from turbines on Buffalo Ridge near Lake Benton. A second provision of the law said NSP must develop an additional 400 MW if the PUC ruled it was in the public interest.

in four years

Mark McGree, manager of resource planning and competitive bidding for NSP, says the company does not want to acquire the additional 400 MW before 2002. "We don't think it is in the public interest because it would be too expensive," he says. The company would prefer to use the bidding process to determine if wind is cost-effective -- and the best way to find out is to issue an all-source bid. "Let wind compete and we'll let the market decide," adds McGree.

Grant says the Izaac Walton League is flexible about the timing of the projects. "The company is in the midst of acquiring the first 425 MW, and we didn't expect they would be simultaneously acquiring both portions of the mandate. Some or all of the acquisitions could occur after the first 425 MW is completed. Obviously, I am not wildly excited about it stretching to 2012, but it may go to 2003 or 2004," says Grant.

The success of the renewables campaign is put down to "excellent analysis" of the future costs of wind compared with gas and a massive public relations campaign which brought the press solidly behind development of more wind power, says Michael Noble of Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "This all helped the commissioners over their scepticism and even the most market-oriented commissioners supported the additional mandate," he says.

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