Xcel Energy announced plans Tuesday to buy or build 200 megawatts of wind-power capacity in North Dakota by 2011 as part of the utility’s push to boost its renewable energy generation.
That figure would exceed the 178 megawatts of capacity operating throughout North Dakota at the end of last year, and is nearly a third of the 682 megawatts now in operation or under development in the state.
The initiative, announced shortly after the North Dakota Legislature passed new wind development incentives, will dramatically increase Xcel’s wind capacity in the state acknowledged by many to be the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy” for its rich potential.
“I’m looking forward to the day the Saudis say we’re the North Dakota of petroleum production,” said Paul Bonavia, president of Xcel Energy Utilities Group president.
Meeting the 200-megawatt goal will mean an investment of between $400 million and $500 million, he said. The cost of erecting turbines is rising rapidly ““ one reason Xcel rushed to make its announcement ““ because of increased demand for materials.
“These are very capital-intensive projects,” Bonavia said.
Xcel ranks as the nation’s top provider of wind energy, but has been slow to develop wind power in North Dakota, where it serves customers in Fargo and Grand Forks. Two years ago, it started buying 12-megawatts of electricity from a wind farm near Velva, N.D.
Xcel didn’t announce the location or size of any new wind farms in North Dakota on Tuesday, but said those announcements can be expected in the next few months.
Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, on hand for Tuesday’s announcement, applauded Xcel’s decision to significantly tap North Dakota’s huge wind potential. He noted development has risen sharply in the past six years ““ planned or completed wind investments now top $1 billion ““ spurred by incentives.
“Our state has stepped up to the plate in a number of ways to let this happen,” Dalrymple said. Among those is a state allowance for a 15-percent investment tax credit.
Xcel’s ambitious goal follows the announcement five weeks ago by partners planning to build a 159-megawatt wind farm near Langdon, N.D., which will become the state’s largest. That project is developed by FPL Energy and partners Minnkota Power Cooperative and Otter Tail Power Co.
“It’s an amazing time in our state,” said Kevin Cramer, a member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. “We are really in a boom.”
Mark Nisbet, Xcel’s top manager in North Dakota, said the 200-megawatt level more than doubles the firm’s goal of meeting at least 10 percent of its electricity demand in the state through renewable sources.
Xcel now will find locations for wind farms. The best sites combine favorable locations not only for wind, but also access to transmission and roads, Bonavia said.
“We’ll be working hard on finding the right locations,” Bonavia said. In some cases, because of transmission considerations, it might be best to form partnerships with other utilities to add wind capacity.
“We’ll build or buy in the right combinations,” he said. “We’re prepared to do all of it. We’re looking to move pretty quickly.”
By Patrick Springer
9 May 2007
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