Anyone who has endured a long checkout line can feel Tim Simons’s pain.
Simons, a wind developer of Mandan, is in a line so long it’ll take two, maybe three years to get to the front of it.
The holdup for Simons is the same for any developer hoping to build any power facility in the region. It’s putting a crimp in his plans to develop an eagerly awaited wind project in Grant County.
The holdup is a “queue” to get an interconnect agreement from Midwest Independent System Operators to put that power on the region’s electric transmission system.
Right now, MISO, headquartered in Indiana, has 290 projects in its queue, more than any in its history. All but 70 of them are wind projects.
MISO manages a transmission “footprint” of nearly 1 million square miles and 100,000 megawatts of power in the Midwest. Not one – from a 1 megawatt wind turbine to a 1,500 megawatt nuclear facility – gets on the grid without an agreement.
Its spokesman, Carl Dombek, said the agreements require studies to make sure there’s room for the power, to determine where the power would go and what would happen downstream on the line.
Dombek said the average wait now is at least 19 months. Similar to a checkout line, it doesn’t matter the size of the order. First come is first served.
Simons said all of that adds up to time and money for developers.
Investors aren’t crazy about putting money into a project that may not even get to the front of the queue for more than two years, and then still have to go through the study phase, he said.
His first projects only required four months for MISO action.
The long lead time is making it tough to get wind projects off the ground, like the relatively small 19.5-megawatt project Simons’s company, Crownbutte LLC, has proposed for Grant County.
“The queue has made life very difficult,” Simons said. “The investor group (for Elgin) said it didn’t know the wait would be that long.”
Simons said he’d like the see the rules reversed, so that projects under 20 megawatts, like Elgin, once again wouldn’t have to go into MISO’s master queue.
It’s a situation he equates to having a Piper Cub backed up behind a Boeing 747 aircraft at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.
Grant County isn’t the only project swinging in the wind.
A Houston-based wind developer told the McIntosh County Commission last week that the same backlog at MISO means a 65-megawatt project planned near Ashley will be put off for at least a year.
BP Alternative Energy representative Matt Sakurada said the project is in the “second layer” of interconnect studies, ahead of some projects, but behind others, with another layer of study still to go. He said McIntosh County landowners have been told about the delay, and remain supportive.
“Patience is required in this business. There are so many wind farms on the drawing board, so it becomes a lengthy process,” Sakurada said, in a report carried by the Ashley Tribune.
Dombek said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is talking about how it can alleviate the backlog. To do so, would mean making rule changes that streamline the MISO’s process.
“Wind is popular right now, and they’re (FERC) taking notice,” Dombek said.
To put the 291 applications in MISO’s queue in perspective, Dombek said one doesn’t have to look back very far.
In 2005, MISO received approximately 80 applications. In 2006, that number increased to 130. So far in 2007, they have received 190 applications, Dombek said.
Taken all together, projects in the MISO queue total 70,000 new megawatts of power. Of those, 55,000 megawatts would come from wind.
The rush is on because of federal tax credits for wind projects and because some states are requiring renewable sources in their energy mix.
North Dakota has 42 projects in the queue, including two of Simons’ near Bowman. Nine are already approved and another 33 await their turn, including big lignite-fired projects at Minnesota Power Cooperative in Center, and Montana-Dakota Utilities at Gascoyne.
Simons said he’ll file an interconnect request for the $35 million Grant County project within a week. Sam Dart, of Elgin, told the Elgin newspaper he’s eager for the project to bring benefits to landowners and tax dollars to the school district.
Gordon Pietsch, helps manage transmission for Great River Energy, which has eight projects in MISO’s queue for its service area.
Pietsch provides study information for interconnect agreements.
The bottom line is that nearly the entire transmission system – especially anything connecting east out of North Dakota – is strained to capacity. That means projects that finally get to the head of the line may require all the additional time and expense of a transmission upgrade before they’re feasible.
“Transmission is pretty well constrained everywhere,” Pietsch said. “Now we’re in a situation where we need to grow the (transmission) grid.”
By Lauren Donovan
16 December 2007
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