Of all the regions in North America, the Midwest offers unparalleled potential to generate electricity from wind. It has some of the strongest, most consistent wind characteristics in the world; plenty of landowners eager to site wind farms on their property; and developers with money, clamoring to tap this rich natural resource.
Getting the expected new wind power to market is the mission of the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (Midwest ISO), an independent, nonprofit organization that supports the availability of electricity in 13 states and the Canadian province of Manitoba. And, the wind generation forecast is huge. The Midwest ISO already has about 6,600 megawatts of wind power online. However, it has proposals for 313 new wind projects representing more than 54,000 megawatts of new generation, more than any other part of the country. This is great news for electrical contractors in the area.
“Someone has to build the wires and the wind turbines,” said Eric Laverty, director of transmission access planning for Midwest ISO.
But there are major obstacles: many of the proposed wind farms are sited in isolated areas, weakly supported by transmission infrastructure.
“That’s where the wind is. You can put coal on a train or a barge and move it, or you can pipe natural gas, but with wind, it’s either windy in a spot or it’s not,” Laverty said.
Midwest ISO has to be serious about connecting new wind generation because of requirements set by states to purchase renewable power. Xcel Energy in Minnesota, for example, is mandated to reach 30 percent renewables usage by 2020, and the rest of the state must reach 25 percent by 2025. Seven other ISO states have renewable mandates, ranging from 10 percent in Wisconsin by 2015 to 25 percent in Ohio by 2025. North and South Dakota have goals of 10 percent by 2015. Only Indiana has yet to set a target.
“We have prime fuel availability with wind, and we already have an established market,” Laverty said.
Connecting these new resources to the grid will cost billions of dollars and cross multiple jurisdictions and involve many public and private entities.
“We need wire,” he said. “The infrastructure is just not there right now.”
The dilemma is the areas that have the most wind tend to have least load and generation. For instance, in the Buffalo Ridge area of southwestern Minnesota, there is approximately 50 megawatts of load and 2,000–5,000 megawatts of proposed wind generation that will need to get to the grid.
“We have to build major transmission lines,” Laverty said.
To meet the state renewable mandates and serve wind developers, the Midwest ISO has a Regional Generation Outlet Study underway with flexible planning to build short-term and long-term infrastructure. In late August, regulators from 13 states in the region attended a two-day meeting in St. Paul, Minn., along with hundreds of stakeholders from the Midwest ISO.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Marc Spitzer addressed the group, expressed optimism and thanked them for their commitment to wind integration. At the meeting, there was consensus to continue the collaborative process led by Midwest ISO to resolve the wind-power integration issue.
“I believe we are on track for our interim milestones. We have a very open process. People can be involved and they can see what’s coming. We hope that will generate support for the plans we are making,” Laverty said.