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Tests to determine wind farm's effect on power grid

The proposed Ellis County wind farm could produce a maximum of 200 megawatts of energy – however, at this point it does not appear that the energy would have an effect on local power bills.

“If the power goes outside of Ellis County, there won’t be one bit of change to the electrical bills of people in Ellis County,” said Competitive Power Ventures project manager Krista Gordon. “If Midwest Energy purchases some of the energy, I don’t know if that will have any effect on the bills or what it would be, but that is their call to make.”

Midwest Energy, which provides energy to almost 46,000 customers in 41 Kansas counties, already has agreed to purchase 25 megawatts of wind energy from the Smoky Hills Wind Project, located in Ellsworth and Lincoln counties.

The company has sent out requests for proposals for wind energy contracts and could acquire a total of 50 megawatts by 2010.

However, even if a wind project is constructed nearby, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the company will purchase its energy from the development, said Bob Helm, Midwest spokesman.

“The energy from wind farms needs to be competitive,” Helm said. “Just because there’s one sitting close to town doesn’t mean they’ll be as competitive as another wind farm somewhere else.”

While Midwest Energy could someday enter negotiations with CPV, the company has no current plans to solicit bids, said Bill Dowling, vice president of energy management and supply.

Midwest Energy already has some experience with renewable energy – the company’s three-year contract for 10 megawatts of energy from Montezuma’s Gray County Wind Farm expired in September 2005.

The goal in purchasing renewable energy isn’t necessarily to decrease customers’ power bills, but rather “to break even,” Dowling said.

“Our general guidance is that procuring that wind energy should not increase our average cost of energy,” he said. “We weren’t looking for (bills) to decrease significantly – we don’t think that’s likely – but we wouldn’t buy it if it appeared we were going to increase it.”

Overall, Midwest Energy has been satisfied with its wind energy experience. Wind farms, however, don’t always produce at maximum output, Dowling said.

“As a general rule, you only are going to get half or less of the available energy,” he said. “It’s half of what the machine would be capable of producing if they could run at maximum output all the time, (but) the wind doesn’t blow all the time.”

However, wind energy does offer advantages, Dowling said.

“It’s certainly beneficial from an environmental standpoint. There’s no emissions. It’s a clean resource,” he said. “From a public policy standpoint, it makes good sense to have some amount of clean resource in your supply mix.”

At this point, Midwest Energy’s primary role in the proposed development is to make sure the transmission system will continue to operate reliably, Dowling said.

The Ellis County wind turbines will be constructed in groups and connected by an underground collection system. The energy will flow from this collection system to an on-site substation, which will be constructed by CPV.

This facility likely will be located in a central area of the project, but an exact location hasn’t yet been determined, Gordon said.

This substation will house a step-up transformer, where the voltage will be changed from collection system voltage to transmission voltage, which is necessary to transport the power.

This voltage will amount to about 230 kilovolts, Gordon said.

These kilovolts will then flow to the Midwest Energy-owned South Hays substation, located on Mount Pleasant Road, then be fed into the Southwest Power Pool.

To gain access to this connection point, CPV has filed an interconnection request with SPP, a transmission system that provides electricity to Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and New Mexico.

Before access can be approved, a series of tests must be conducted to determine whether the connection could have a negative effect on the power grid.

“One thing raised as a concern is that somehow the wind farm will destabilize the grid,” Gordon said. “Part of interconnection studies is to determine whether there will be any negative impacts and how to correct them.”

These tests still are being conducted by SPP. Upon completion, SPP and Midwest Energy will review results and decide whether access should be granted.

The distance from the project to this substation is about 4 miles, Gordon said.

The shortest route to the South Hays substation will be to use transmission lines located on Fort Hays State University-owned property. However, the university’s consent is necessary before these wires can be accessed, she said.

By Kaley Lyon
Hays Daily News


29 April 2007