Kansas is mad about wind. And Salina could be.
“Salina is very well-located to become a place for folks that manufacture components for wind farms,” Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, late Wednesday morning, told an audience that filled the conference room at the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce to capacity. “We think that Salina is a particularly good place to hold a meeting of the Kansas Wind Working Group.”
In the past 18 months, wind developers have requested studies for more than 7,700 megawatts of wind generation in Kansas. During the same period, similar studies were requested for more than 20,000 MW of wind generation in Oklahoma and Texas.
Nobody expects all those proposals to be developed, but collectively they represent far more wind than the region could possibly use.
“This is not a state issue; it is a national issue,” said Carl Huslig, a member of the group and president of ITC Great Plains, a transmission line developer. “We’ve got to move (the power) to the East Coast or the West Coast.”
The meeting touched on most of the hot-button issues surrounding wind energy – its role in a utility’s power portfolio; its viability as an energy source for homeowners, schools or small communities; whether the Legislature should be addressing net metering and renewable portfolio standards; and how the cost of building new transmission lines should be allocated.
A good area for wind
The meeting drew a diverse audience, which included one sitting legislator – Rep. Josh Svaty, D-Ellsworth – and two candidates running against incumbents: Abner Perney, a Salina city commissioner who is running against Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, and Cynthia Nelson, Lincoln, who is running against Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee.
“I think it’s not only important to Kansas public policy, it has major ramifications for this area,” Svaty said during a break. “This is the ideal home for a manufacturing facility.”
He pointed out that hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in the Smoky Hills Wind Farm 20 miles west of Salina. Similar sums will be spent when the wind farm is built in Cloud County.
Parkinson, who is chairman of the Kansas Wind Working Group, said that Salina’s connections to aircraft manufacturing make it all the more attractive as home to wind-related manufacturers.
Jim Turnure, environmental policy manager at Xcel Energy, told the group that Xcel – the largest utility in Minnesota – is on a very fast track for adding wind to its portfolio. The state’s renewable portfolio standard, which he said is the most aggressive in the country, requires Xcel to get 15 percent of its capacity from wind by 2010, and 25 percent by 2020.
In fact, Xcel is adding so much wind that it canceled plans to upgrade nuclear and coal-fired power plants.
“We had to stop our resource planning process,” Turnure said.
You can’t store it, yet
Turnure acknowledged that the wind’s intermittence will continue to be a challenge until large-scale storage technology is available to bank unused electricity from wind turbines. He reminded the audience that in February, Texas lost 900 megawatts of wind energy in 20 minutes, nearly crashing the grid.
“We’d like to be able to store it, but we can’t,” he said.
The inability to store electricity is a double-edged sword. When strong winds create more energy than is needed, the excess is wasted. Worse yet, if the utility has a contract to buy electricity from a wind farm, it might have to pay a curtailment charge, Turnure said.
Do we need net metering?
There was spirited debate over whether the Legislature should adopt a net metering law. Net metering allows individuals to connect a generator – typically a wind turbine or solar cell – to their home’s electrical system, and if a surplus is generated, the home’s electric meter runs backward. The effect is to “sell” all excess power back to the utility at retail rates.
Actually, the homeowner would still not receive full credit, since utilities typically have certain fixed charges that are independent of the metered amount.
Kansas has a variant of net metering that is sometimes referred to as parallel metering – excess power is sold back to the utility at 1.5 times the avoided cost of electricity, which is typically a small fraction (around one-fourth) the retail cost.
Nancy Jackson, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project at the Land Institute, 2440 E. Water Well, said that inquiries about net metering are the most frequent questions her organization fields from the public.
Utility representatives in the group said that if Kansas had net metering it likely would not do much to stimulate renewable energy development. In any case, utilities would need to be compensated for services customers continue to receive, said John Grimwade, senior director of strategic planning and development at Kansas City Power and Light.
By Duane Schrag
19 June 2008