As plans for Godzilla-sized wind farms wait for regulators to approve transmission lines to serve them, much smaller farms are starting to spin in the Panhandle.
The 10 megawatt farms have been overshadowed by projects like last year’s start up, the 161 megawatt Wildorado Wind Ranch, but they still make their presence known.
“Each one of those things are a straw in the basket on the camel’s back,” said Stephen Beuning, Xcel’s director of market operations. “We’re accommodating them, but they could cause reliability problems if the wind is blowing hard and we have enough power already.”
High Plains Wind Power is building one of the latest wind farms to go up in the region. It’s a 10 megawatt project in Carson County northeast of Pantex.
John Deere Renewables owns 99.5 percent of High Plains Wind Power and Hodges Wind Holdings, headed by Glen Hodges of Austin, owns the rest, according to the company’s registration filing with the Texas Public Utilities Commission.
The electricity from the project, which at full capacity could power 2,500 or more homes, will serve Southwestern Public Service customers. Eight turbines, rated at 1.25 megawatts each, will generate the power.
That will put the wind capacity for SPS’s parent company, Xcel Energy, at almost 600 megawatts in its Texas and New Mexico system, said Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves. That approaches 15 percent of the company’s total capacity in the area.
A megawatt can power 250 to 300 average homes.
Regulations haven’t caught up with the boom in wind energy and a 1978 law says Xcel has to buy from the small wind producers.
“Then for power we pay them what we would have paid to run other facilities,” said David Hudson, director of regulatory administration at Xcel.
Xcel officials in the past have said reliability problems could crop up when wind capacity exceeds 10 percent of Xcel’s total production in Eastern New Mexico and the Panhandle. Since wind capacity has exceeded that, new strategies are needed.
The Southwest Power Pool controls the power grid in those areas and extends north and east as far as Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. Depending on circumstances, if SPP can accept the extra power, the electricity can go that direction but existing power lines can only carry so much.
Another plan is to boost the number of transmission lines from New Mexico and the Panhandle into Kansas and Oklahoma – sometimes called the “X Plan” because on a map its core forms an X.
“If there is sufficient need and justification, that would be one of the solutions,” said John Fulton, manager of transmission planning for SPS.
The give and take of power production between large power plants, wind farms, consumer demand and the ability of wires to handle the energy gets complicated.
“It’s all instantaneous. It travels at the speed of light,” Hudson said
By Kevin Welch
24 January 2008
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