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Harnessing the wind not easy

While wind gusts of up to 55 mph blew through Bismarck Monday, energy investors and experts discussed the difficulties with harnessing that power and pushing it through transmission lines.

“If you as a generator want to get into the system, you are indeed in trouble,”Duane Steed, manager of new generation development for Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., told the roomful of renewable energy professionals.

Steed, Rodney “Rod” Scheel with OtterTail Power Co. and David Hadley with Midwest ISO discussed wind transmission issues in the Midwest at the Renewable Fuels Action Summit at Bismarck State CollegeMonday.

MDU Resources’ current transmission system peak is at 525 megawatts, he said. But there are 3,470 mw worth of projects – existing and pending – that want to connect to MDU’s lines.

“Where is this stuff going to come on the transmission line, when we know it’s full?” Steed said.

And the queue for all of the lines in the Midwest ISOsystem is 72,000 mw long, said Scheel. About 62,000 of that is wind.

But the problem, Scheel said, is not necessarily the transmission grid, but the cost and time associated with adding transmission lines to a wind project.

“If you get a concerted effort by all the stakeholders … you can develop wind-related transmission in much less than three to four years,”Scheel said.

Hadley described the system as disconnected, with lines going from generators to customers and not necessarily always plugging into a larger system.

Aggressive renewable energy standards in Minnesota require 25 percent of the state’s electricity to come from wind by 2025; Scheel said there are several studies to determine how to best meet those needs, from generation to getting the power on to the grid.

“At the end of the day, the customer has to pay for this,”Scheel said of the surveys and studies. “I’ve never seen a period of time when there’s been so many transmission studies under way. We believe studies will lead to financial, prudent expenditures.”

This was the third annual Renewable Fuels Summit; other topics included biofuels and feed stock for renewable energy, as well as a talk by Nobel Prize winner Steve Chu.

Chu discussed climate change, also addressing North Dakota’s wind potential and problems. He explained the need for storage systems for wind energy, as well as the difficulties in transmitting the energy.

By Crystal R. Reid

The Bismarck Tribune

20 May 2008