In order to integrate wind power into existing systems, access to transmission lines must be established to transfer energy from turbines to energy providers. Because building new transmission infrastructure is extremely expensive and time-consuming, wind energy is most feasible when connected to existing lines.
According to a spokesman for the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, while wind farms can be erected in eighteen months, building a line can take upwards of seven years. Thus, Phase I of a statewide study recently commissioned as part of the Governor’s Next Generation Energy Initiative of 2006 assessed “the potential ability to install 600 MW of dispersed renewable generation throughout Minnesota with minimal impacts on the transmission system.” Dispersed renewable energy includes wind, biomass and solar energy. The study demonstrated that it would indeed be possible to achieve the target 600 MW without greatly impacting the transmission infrastructure.
Looking at wind energy alone, the 2006 Minnesota Wind Integration Study found that Minnesota’s power system could accommodate enough wind energy to account for twenty percent of retail energy sales “if sufficient transmission investments” were made. So while maximizing our wind power potential would inevitably require transmission investments, it also seems that significant advances could be made as a first step without altering the transmission.
Working toward this first step, Phase II of the statewide study on dispersed renewable energy generation will investigate the actions that would be necessary to interconnect the wind farm locations identified in Phase I. It is important to establish dispersed but interconnected sites to minimize variability: if geographically scattered wind plants work together, the chances that some of them will be producing power at any given time are greater.
Although southwestern Minnesota is windier than most of the country, other select parts of the United States are far windier. Nonetheless, Minnesota is one of the most promising candidates for one specific use of wind power.
In a 2006 presentation, Michael Reese of the University of Minnesota discussed the possibility of converting wind power into storable substances immediately upon generation instead of transferring it to a power plant for distribution. Specifically, wind power can be used to make anhydrous ammonia, the key ingredient in fertilizers.
Thanks to corn production, Minnesota is in the heart of the greatest demand for anhydrous ammonia. To produce fertilizers locally using wind energy would minimize the environmental impacts from production and transportation. And because transmission lines would be unnecessary, wind power would also be an alternative to battling with the low transmission grid capacity in many rural areas.
Aside from providing open, windy space for wind farm development, and opportunities for innovative uses of wind power like fertilizer production, Minnesota is additionally well-disposed to concentrate its efforts on wind power because it is already a leader in wind energy policy. The Community Based Energy Development Tariff is one example of progressive policy in Minnesota. Also known as C-BED, this legislation “is intended to allow community-based projects easier access to better financing, and empower communities to develop local wind resources and keep the economic benefits of those projects within the community.” C-BED requires that utilities purchasing from community-based or owned wind farms offer higher rates for the first several years of their contract, essentially allowing the wind farm developers to borrow from the later years to ease start-up costs.
Another initiative is Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard, passed in February 2007. The standard requires that twenty-five percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources by the year 2025. There have also been several statewide studies (like those mentioned earlier) to investigate the ease with which wind energy could be developed using existing infrastructure.
Our state is definitely moving in the right direction, and we must make sure we continue to generate considerable human energy, on both the community and policy levels, to make Minnesota a full-blown wind superpower.