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Wind power holds promise but investment needed first  

The winds that sweep across Minnesota may supply far more electricity by 2020, but first someone will have to spend a lot of money building the infrastructure.

The Midwest Wind Integration Study released Wednesday estimated the cost of adding wind power to existing utility systems at less than half a cent per kilowatt hour.

What’s missing from that figure? The cost of new transmission lines to reach wind turbines across the state.

The study prepared for the Legislature said wind could supply a quarter of Minnesota’s electricity _ eight times as much as right now _ if lawmakers support policies to extend current transmission lines.

“It’s possible _ not today, but in coming years _ if we’re interested in doing this,” said Mark Ahlstrom, who heads a St. Paul consulting firm called WindLogics that worked on the report.

Government policies such as extended investment tax credits could help encourage investors to spend millions on more wind power, Charles Smith, director of the Utility Wind Integration Group in Reston, Va.

Large, efficient systems for trading electric power would also help, said Rick Peterson, an analyst at Xcel Energy Inc., the nation’s biggest purchaser of wind power. Because the weather drives wind turbines, utilities must be able to adjust for those unpredictable changes.

“If you’re a utility and trying to balance your other generation against the ebb and flow of wind generation, it’s going to cost you a lot of money,” Peterson said.

The promise of wind is cheaper electricity, said Mike Jacobs of the American Wind Energy Association.

“Where Xcel uses natural gas, every kilowatt of wind energy they can use lowers the customers’ costs,” Jacobs said.


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