New Wind Turbines Need More Transmission Capacity

The expansion in wind power in Minnesota is forcing Xcel Energy to consider spending up to US$170 million on new transmission systems to support development.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, US, 2001-09-18 [] Xcel Energy of Minneapolis has agreed with the state to buy 425 MW of wind power by 2002, in exchange for the right to store spent nuclear fuel. The utility says it has run out of transmission space to hook up new turbines because 300 MW of wind capacity is already in operation. Recent wind developments in Minnesota are sited along the southwestern area of Buffalo Ridge. Many new turbines will likely be based in the same region, so transmission capacity must be increased quickly, according to Xcel. The company has a long-term commitment to buy 825 MW of wind power by 2012. Currently, the local transmission network can handle up to 260 MW of power from the current 300 MW of turbines because they operate at full capacity only part of the time and a certain amount of power is lost before it is transmitted. But the company warns that growth is dependant on increased transmission capacity and it is reviewing several options, including upgrades for existing lines and the addition of 115-KV feeders or a new 90 mile 345-KV line. The options will go before Minnesota regulators soon in the hope of permits by the end of the year. In June, Xcel was exempted from a lengthy routing permit process for a 30 mile transmission line replacement in western Minnesota. The Environmental Quality Board found no significant impacts associated with the proposal to replace an existing 115-kV line between Willmar and Paynesville with a 230-kV line. The decision by MEQB came three months after Xcel’s formal application, with local officials speaking in favour of the project and no landowners voicing opposition. Xcel Energy is the fourth largest utility company in the United States, formed last year by the merger of Northern States Power of Minneapolis and New Century Energies of Denver. It serves 12 states and has annual revenues of $11 billion. It owns 90,000 miles of electricity transmission lines, and 29,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, and its regulated power plants generate 15,394 MW of electricity. The company’s Windsource program in Colorado is the largest customer-driven wind power development in the U.S., and Xcel Energy will have 600 MW of wind power capacity on-line by the end of this year.
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