Focus on the States: Minnesota Wind Power

A shiny, new blade from a modern, 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbine now points majestically toward the sky from the Minnesota State Fair grounds in St. Paul, Minnesota. To some, the blade resembles a concrete manifestation of their desire to make Minnesota No. 1 in wind power — again.

Minnesota wind advocates like to remind others that the state led the nation in new wind power development during the 1990s. But it’s important to remember that, just as with any other state that has a vibrant wind power industry, Minnesota’s No. 1 ranking didn’t happen by accident. The installations that thrust the state into that leadership position were stimulated by policies adopted in the early 1990s, which in turn grew out of awareness and educational initiatives — not unlike the permanent wind blade at the state fair — over the previous decade. Both Minnesota’s past and present experience provides an example of how effective state policy can successfully spur growth in development of wind power. Proof in the Past In a way, the installation of the new blade is an indication of the maturity of the wind energy industry itself. Windustry, a nonprofit wind advocacy organization based in Minneapolis and a Wind Energy Works! Coalition member, successfully recruited 25 wind industry businesses to donate the materials and services — revealing a level of industry commitment that might not have been possible even five years ago. While the stationary blade that’s mounted at the entrance to the Eco Experience building at the fair isn’t producing any electricity, it certainly is generating enthusiasm. Enthusiasm leads to education, education leads to expectation, expectation leads to endorsement of supportive policies, and supportive policies lead to more wind power installations. Once state legislators were confident that Minnesota had adequate wind resources (based on the state program initiated in 1981 to record and document wind speeds across the state) and that wind energy equipment was advanced enough for deployment (based on the demonstration program installed in 1986 supported by the Public Utilities Commission), they proved ready to tackle some tough decisions and make wind energy part of the state’s utility-scale electricity supply options. Specifically, in the early 1990s, the legislature: — Established a preference for renewable energy in electricity resource decisions — Provided depreciation as well as sales and property tax benefits for wind power — Required that renewable energy be considered in utilities’ power purchasing decisions — Established an incentive program for locally-owned, utility-scale turbines, and required the acquisition of up to 825 MW of wind power capacity to supply the state’s largest utility, now known as Xcel Energy. As a result of these state policies, Minnesota had nearly 300 MW of wind power capacity installed in the state by the end of the 1990s and has nearly three times that amount installed today. Of course, California led the nation in cumulative installed wind power throughout the period as a result of that state’s foresight in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Texas had bumped Minnesota to No. 3 in the national standing by the end of the 1990s. Then Minnesota’s sister state to the south, Iowa, edged ahead to make Minnesota No. 4. But Minnesotans never forgot that they sustained that No. 1 ranking for many years, and they no doubt wish to be there again. Yet Minnesotans also understand that you can’t wish for something without taking concrete action. In 2006, the state Senate endorsed the same concept — renewable portfolio standards, or, as they are known in Minnesota, “Renewable Electricity Standards” — that helped thrust Texas and Iowa into their wind leadership positions. The Minnesota Senate passed a bill that would result in 20% of electricity sold in the state being supplied by wind and other renewable energy sources by 2020. Senate staff estimates that such a commitment would result in nearly $5 billion worth of investment in wind energy projects over the next 14 years. The session ended before the bill cleared the House, but the measure will be reintroduced by the 2007 Minnesota state legislature, and many candidates for governor and the legislature have taken strong stands in support of the predictable market for wind and other renewables that would be established by a statewide standard. The Cherry of Public Policy Many states have demonstrated that establishing markets for wind power installations leads to the cherry of public policy: local economic development. The ultimate goal for any state, of course, would be to secure the permanent manufacturing and assembly jobs required to produce the wind energy equipment supplying nearby markets. This phenomenon has already been demonstrated in many states that have established robust markets for wind power. In California, Zond (which later became GE Wind) built its assembly plant in Tehachapi. NEG Micon (now part of Vestas) assembled its first U.S. turbines in Hutchinson, Minnesota. The regional wind markets in the northern Great Plains enticed LM Glasfiber to locate its blade manufacturing plant in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and what is now DMI Industries to turn a former agricultural implement manufacturing plant into a wind tower manufacturing facility. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s strong commitment to wind power market development helped lure Gamesa’s office, manufacturing, and assembly facilities to the state. And Iowa’s wind energy market leadership led to a Clipper Windpower turbine manufacturing plant in Cedar Rapids as well as a recent commitment by Siemens to manufacture its 45-meter turbine blades in Fort Madison. Finally, the first Suzlon turbine blades for the company’s S-88 turbine are expected to begin rolling out of that company’s new manufacturing plant in Pipestone, Minnesota, later this fall. With $3 billion in new wind installations in the U.S. in 2005 and even more expected in 2006 and 2007, opportunities remain vast for wind power expansion. Minnesota alone has more than five times the wind energy resource as Germany, the current world leader in wind power installations. Clearly, many Minnesotans would like to utilize much more of their abundant, indigenous wind energy resource — and, as symbolized by the giant icon permanently installed at the State Fair, to make Minnesota No. 1 again. Article republished with permission from the American Wind Energy Association. About the Author John R. Dunlop, P.E., is Senior Technical Outreach Representative for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). Based in Minneapolis, he provides wind energy market, policy and technical information to technical audiences and utility representatives. He manages AWEA’s wind energy standards development program under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). John has been with AWEA since 1993, and collaborated with AWEA while serving as a renewable energy program manager for the Minnesota state energy office for 15 years. He has degrees in physics and mechanical engineering, and is a licensed professional engineer.
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