Minnesota’s new mandate requiring 25 percent of the state’s electricity to be derived from renewable energy sources by 2025 likely will boost wind-power development in North Dakota.
The so-called “25 by ’25″ initiative sends a signal to regional power providers that demand for wind energy will grow significantly, said Brad Crabtree, of Kulm, N.D., director of an initiative by the Great Plains Institute to reach consensus about how to reduce greenhouse gases.
“I think the implications are large for North Dakota,” he said. Minnesota, especially the growing Twin Cities metro area, is a big export market for electricity generated in North Dakota, he said.
“The political sentiments are pretty obvious in Minnesota, and we need to provide a power mix that is customer-oriented,” Crabtree said.
Even before Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed Minnesota’s new renewable energy mandate law last month, many utilities have been planning significant expansions of wind farms in the area. Minnesota’s earlier renewable goal was to glean 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
For example, Minnkota Power Cooperative, based in Grand Forks, N.D., plans to announce details soon for what’s expected to be North Dakota’s largest wind farm, near Langdon. Minnkota supplies 11 member electric cooperatives, three in North Dakota and eight in Minnesota.
Minnkota plans to add
180 megawatts of wind-generating capacity ““ expecting its turbines will be available
40 percent of the time ““ to meet Minnesota’s mandate, said David Sogard, Minnkota’s vice president of legal and governmental affairs.
Similarly, Minnkota plans to add another 60 to
70 megawatts of load capacity in North Dakota, where it sells about half of its electricity. Customers include Cass County Electric Cooperative.
Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to Fargo and Grand Forks, must meet an even more ambitious renewable energy standard under Minnesota’s new law, 30 percent by 2020, with 25 percent to come from wind.
“It’s my belief that it will create opportunities for North Dakota,” said Mark Nisbet, Xcel’s top manager in North Dakota.
But Xcel, the nation’s leading provider of wind power, is still deciding how best to meet its obligations under the mandate, and it is too soon to determine how much of the utility’s added wind power will come from North Dakota.
“˜25 by 25′ gets flack
North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven backs a legislative bill that sets a voluntary renewable national energy objective of 25 percent by 2025, but critics contend that amendments to the bill dilute that goal by allowing nonrenewable energy sources, such as recycling, use of waste heat or carbon capture and sequestration.
Coal provides more than
90 percent of North Dakota’s electricity and about half of Minnesota’s.
The board of Basin Electric Power Cooperative, based in Bismarck, recently set a goal of meeting a 25 percent renewable energy goal by 2025, including hydropower and electricity generated by waste heat.
“There is a move toward more renewables,” said Floyd Robb, Basin Electric’s vice president for communications. “I think “˜25 by 25′ is a very aggressive goal.”
To meet that goal, Basin Electric expects to add 300 megawatts of renewable generation, Robb said. Previously, Basin’s member co-ops ““ which provide power to
2.5 million customers in nine states ““ embraced a 10 percent commitment to renewable energy by 2010.
Coal still necessary
Despite the growing adoption of renewable energy goals and standards, many utilities say it will still be necessary to burn coal, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, to meet growing demands for electricity.
Basin Electric and Minnkota Power, for instance, are separately exploring building large, new coal-burning plants. Both say they will use the most efficient boilers available, and both are evaluating the commercial feasibility of using technologies that allow the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide.
So far, Sogard said, it appears capturing and storing carbon in coal plants will not be commercially viable until around 2020 ““ too late to allow Minnkota to meet demand growth expected before then.
Basin expects to decide this summer what kind of plant to build. “The technology may not be mature enough yet” to build an economically feasible plant that can capture and store carbon, Robb said.
Similarly, a partnership of seven utility groups behind the proposed Big Stone II coal-fired power station near Big Stone, S.D., is pressing ahead with plans for the plant, despite Minnesota’s new renewable energy standard.
New transmission associated with the Big Stone II plant is crucial to enable planned expansion in wind capacity, said Cris Kling, a spokeswoman for Otter Tail Power Co., the lead partner in the project.
“This law means Minnesota needs Big Stone II now more than ever,” she said. A study of transmission capacity that helped support the feasibility of Minnesota’s aggressive renewable standard assumed new transmission driven by Big Stone II would be available, she said.
The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is reviewing the need for new transmission lines associated with the plant. So is the North Dakota Public Service Commission.
In both states, environmentalists have objected, contending the likelihood of future carbon constraints will drive coal-fired electricity costs much higher than wind, making it a bad choice for consumers.
Big Stone II partners counter that coal will remain the cheapest power source given scenarios for restricting carbon that are likely to pass.
By Patrick Springer
5 March 2007
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