Transmission for wind power eyed in South Dakota
May 9, 2009 - Scott Waltman - The Associated Press
ABERDEEN, S.D. (The Associated Press) - May 9 - By SCOTT WALTMAN Printer Friendly As the number of wind turbines scattered along the South Dakota skyline continues to grow, moving the energy they provide out of the state requires a fundamental change.
Dusty Johnson of the state Public Utilities Commission puts it simply: A local power transmission system has to become national.
Trying to transmit wind power to more populous states is not a new problem. But when federal regulators recently approved generous incentives for a proposed 3,000-mile, high-voltage transmission system, they kept alive a potential solution to at least part of the problem.
Novi, Mich.-based ITC Holdings Corp. wants to build the lines to move wind-generated power from the Dakotas to homes in Chicago and other cities. The conceptual $10-billion to $12-billion project would go online in 2020.
The so-called Green Power Express would ideally run though not only the Dakotas, but Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. And while the prospect is good news for South Dakota wind farms, just how they would be impacted is not yet known. Nor are the specifics of the route, said Steve Wegman of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association.
The transmission system might be able to help move energy from the Tatanka wind farm in the Long Lake/Leola area if that wind farm expanded, Wegman said. Now, Tatanka-generated power runs to a substation at Ellendale, N.D.
Johnson said ITC is already in contact with people developing wind farms that have not been built, so those projects are would-be sources for the Green Power Express. But it's too early to know many of the details, he said.
Even if the high-voltage lines don't directly move power from the Long Lake/Leola area, they would help Tatanka and many other wind farms, Johnson said. Electricity follows the path of least resistance. The Green Power Express lines, at 765 kilovolts, would ease the load on other lines, he said.
The 765 lines would easily have the most capacity in South Dakota. The most powerful lines now are 345 kilovolts. Such lines run along big, steel poles to a substation near Groton.
Wegman said one 765 line has the capacity of six 345 lines. And, he said, three 345 lines can handle South Dakota's power demand most days. ITC's transmission system could provide power to more than 3.5 million homes in other states.
Some logical deductions can be made about the Green Power Express route, Wegman said. The best places to run the lines would be along interstate or railroad rights of way. Interstates, though, would be problematic because there are many buildings along them and they often cut through towns. So, Wegman said, railroad rights of way make more sense. Most likely, he said, the 765 lines would follow railroad rights of way to a 345 kilovolt substation in South Dakota, of which there are several.
South Dakota wind production capacity is just shy of 285 megawatts - up from 187 earlier this year. North Dakota's wind energy capacity is more than 700 megawatts and Minnesota's more than 1,750 megawatts, according to U.S. Department of Energy Statistics. South Dakota has potential to produce much more with more wind farm development. The Green Power Express would be able to transfer 12,000 megawatts of electricity.
The state PUC just gave approval to a 306-megawatt wind farm - what will be more than three times what is now the state's largest - that will be built in Brookings and Deuel counties. That will bring the state's production up to nearly 600 megawatts. Without an improved transmission system, there is no need for more production, Johnson said.
ITC could find regulatory problems in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Wegman and Johnson agree. If that's the case, Wegman said, the lines would likely enter South Dakota from Iowa near Sioux City. But it would be best to have more than one entry point so there's a way to provide power to customers if one set of lines were damaged or down, he said.
There will be no Green Power Express if changes aren't made to how transmission costs are allocated, Johnson said. He said the current process is very complicated, but the bottom line is that 80 percent of the cost of the Green Power Express would be passed on via tariff to people who use the line in the area it runs through. The rest would be footed by people farther away. That's why Minnesota is a key state, Johnson said. It has lots of people and produces lots of wind power.
The cost needs to be spread over a larger area because the Green Power Express will not only benefit those who use the power it delivers, but other utility company loads will be eased, Johnson said.
Both the PUC and ITC are working with federal officials to address the issue, Johnson said. In fact, he said, playing the political game is the project's next big step - even more important than worrying about regulatory or economic details. The upside is that the Obama administration wants to increase wind power production, so there should be support for the transmission system. The downside is that Congress moves very slowly.
Opponents have already filed letters raising concerns that the Green Power Express is not the right project and that it will raise electric rates. But Johnson sees the project as a boon for local wind producers.
The incentives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved include a 12.38 percent return on investment. That's a healthy level, Wegman said. A more common rate of return on utility projects is between 8 and 10 percent, he said. But the Green Power Express has considerable risk. And with risk comes potential reward, he said.
ITC's project is not the only option. Eleven utility companies have forwarded a project called CapX2020, which would build four high-voltage lines, mostly in Minnesota. The project, designed to help with an increasing energy demand, would also help transport renewable energy. And it would dip into Brookings County in South Dakota, a wind-rich area.
Without a project like the CapX2020 or the Green Power Express, the wind energy industry is going to struggle to grow significantly because there will be nowhere to send the electricity the turbines create, Wegman said.
"If you're going to be in the energy business," he said, "you're going to get hooked into the transcontinental power line."
Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com